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by Carol Denney

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I first heard that Berkeley might try to enact another anti-sitting law, I turned to the poets, singers, activists, and musicians I know and told them about the proposed legislation. The immediate result was disbelief. And poetry. And songs.
People started to write and sing about it because that’s what they do. It was like suddenly finding a beautiful river springing to life around me.

"Sitting is a human right." Scores of protesters brought chairs to downtown Berkeley and held a sit-in in solidarity with homeless people. Lydia Gans photo

One poem in my e-mail box made me dance around my room because it seemed so perfect for the issue. I found myself raving about it at the next meeting I attended, and found I was raving about the poem to its author, poet Gary Hicks.
So! It made sense to find a way to share it all with each other and our communities.
Harold Adler of the Art House Gallery and Community Cultural Center (2905 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley) loved the idea of having a completely free night of shared art in opposition to the proposed anti-sitting law. Paul Kealoha Blake of the East Bay Media Center and B.B. Simmons agreed to videotape it. The Revolutionary Poets Brigade agreed to co-sponsor the event with the Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down Coalition and the art started to flow like crazy.
We began with musician and author Philip Rosheger’s breathtaking works for classical guitar. Philip has played both Carnegie Hall and the local BART stations. He lost all his original folios in his housing struggles, but still has a breathtaking grasp of both the fretboard and international politics. He was too shy to speak, but his music says it all.
We covered every inch of the sidewalk-sitting issue: deep, political, funny, breathtaking, angry, short, long, and gloriously incomprehensible. We laughed a lot.
Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson were there to assure us that we had their support if the proposed anti-sitting legislation ever makes its way to the City Council.
But our strategy is to gather poetry so powerful, stories so stunning, music so moving, and singing so seductive that absolutely everybody wants to be on our side. Then we not only succeed in making sure we don’t join the shameless communities which have passed anti-sitting laws, we become a model for a way to cream bad public policy with so much spectacular art that the bad policy wanders off ashamed and meditates on how it got off track.
It isn’t that we aren’t willing to go to jail — so many of the artists, poets, and musicians conveyed that to me as we gathered steam for the poetry event on May 20, that it was clear we had enough of them willing to sit down for justice to clog jails for miles around since most holding cells aren’t designed for a big crowd.
But how delightful it would be if we could just sing our way right past this terrible proposal, pour enough poetry on it that it is doused entirely. That would be a marvelous model for the next community tempted to outlaw something as natural as sitting down. Art on!

Berkeley Poets Speak Out Against the Sitting Ban


For You Brother & Anti-War

by Arnie Passman

Ill-dressed for comin’ on coldusk,
I rush past the homeless vet,
And his sign, did he have a dog?
At the edge of the UA 7 profit province,
And pull up
When the dove faced young usherette
Comes out and asks him to move.
If you can believe it.
He gets up, howling,
“Yeah, I’ll move.  I fought in two wars,
but yeah, I’ll move.”
I shiver, and rush on
back to my four-day $7 a day
gangster Buick Lucerne.
If you can believe it?
But feel all through my heart,
No one must ever tell any vet
To move,
Or anyone already on the
sidewalk never, ever to be a vet.

The homeless….

by Ava Bird

I have so many mixed feelings
about homeless people
and the deeper repercussions
of free enterprise:
suits and ties
as narcissistic,
ME first!
pecking away at our culture.
I must say though,
about the homeless…
that more and more
I see them camping,
napping in the doorways of the banks,
banks like:
Skank of America and Wells Fargo,
well, fuck you and go!
these gangsters of money
known as banksters.
Sleeping with
Pranksters like at&t
spying on me!
More and more,
I see homeless people
on their cellphones
with funny ringtones,
sleeping in no parking zones
moaning for a few bones
begging  for a free loan,
or maybe
they just want the cops
to leave them alone!
These homeless and their carts,
Pushing and pulling around
a life savings,
Sometimes they scare me, to be honest.
The clothes they wear,
the smells they bear,
sometimes they tear my heart apart,
to see someone else’s life so torn apart.
A lot of them are really smart,
with warts, and all,
and kind hearts
but lets not get started
on the homeless problem!
the homeless burden!
its just capitalism flirting!

I Am A Black Man in his Mid-Sixties

by Gary Hicks

i am a
man in
mid sixties
of a
with a
being told
we can’t
or even
our feet
in mid-air.
i am the
of an
auto worker
was a member
of that
union whose
sat in the
plant owned
by the bosses
until justice
was had.
i am the
younger brother
of the woman
who refused
to give her
seat to the
jim crow
white man
and turned
inside out
the contemporary
i am of the
sisters and
who turned
oklahoma city
and then the
south on
its ear
don’t even
me where
i can’t
take up
folk need
to get
ready to
get up out
of their
there are
real people
waiting to
take command
and like
the sister told
you all
in atlantic city
back when
we didn’t come
for no two
‘specially when
all of us
is tired. i
have the
and soon
have the
to sit down.

I Ain’t Yo Antichrist … I’m Yo Uncle Sam!

by Patrick Fahey (aka Gunther The Clown)

I Ain’t your AntiChrist, I’m your Uncle Sam!
You see me in everything and damn, that’s where I am!
Don’t blame me for getting rich and getting all I can!
I ain’t your AntiChrist, I’m your Uncle Sam!
Been in Korea and Vietnam since 1954
CIA in Nicaragua and El Salvador
Got a million refugees in jail, but I don’t give a damn
I ain’t your AntiChrist, I’m your Uncle Sam!
Don’t blame me for getting old, don’t blame me for getting cold
Don’t blame me for getting old, don’t blame me for getting cold
Don’t blame me for getting old, don’t blame me for getting cold
Don’t blame me for getting cold, I said…COLD, COLD, COLD
Slave labor camps still in the south and ghettos in the north
I’d like to colonize the Middle East for the oil fields of course!
I’d like to colonize the whole wide world but FREEDOM’S in the way
People are still our biggest problem, we’ll have to kill them all off some day!
Our lies are getting obvious, our weapons are laid bare
The truth is getting out on us, and people getting scared!
But the threat of PEACE is on the move and people still have a choice
To stick their heads way up their asses or really raise their voices!
I ain’t your AntiChrist I’m your Uncle Sam!
You see me in everything and damn that’s where I am!
Don’t blame me for getting rich and getting all I can
I ani’t your AntiChrist … I’m YOUR UNCLE SAM!!!

Song of the Wealthy Man

by Carol Denney

Chorus: it’s the song, it’s the song,
the song of the wealthy man!
always right, never wrong!
try to be just like me if you can!
it’s the song of the wealthy man!
you are not my brother we’re nothing alike
I’m driving my hummer you’re riding your bike!
if I were in your shoes I know what I’d see
if I were in your shoes I’d want to be me! (chorus)
you are not my sister no how and no way
your troubles won’t ever come darken my day!
you’re different it’s your fault you’re stuck in a ditch
you should have planned better like me and got rich!
I am not your keeper so get on your knees
and if you want something you’d better say please!
it’s best if you flatter obsequiously
I’ll hear you much better if it’s about me! (chorus)
if you’re out of money well I’m not to blame
of course I’m a winner I made up the game!
you should have planned better it’s easy to see
go talk to your broker quit whining to me! (chorus)
a snap of my fingers they follow like geese
I own the officials I own the police!
the sidewalks are mine and the medians, too
so get up and move before I arrest you! (chorus)
you’re poor so of course no one listens to you
It’s amazing what big piles of money can do!
I encounter agreement whatever I say
And if they try to tax me I faint dead away! (chorus)
raise a glass to the rich ‘cause they’re better than you
better shod, dressed, connected, well insured, too!
money may not buy love as the songs always say
but it buys politicians and they’re here to stay! (chorus)

Defeat Sit-Lie Couplets

by Lincoln Bergman

The streets of Berkeley scenes have seen
Of battles, marches, freedom dreams
Groves of academe that stand
And working folks in the flatland
Not just the University
But People’s Parks of what could be
A park named after Ho Chi Minh
A rising chant of We Will Win.
Yet times have changed and now it seems
Nightmares do intrude on dreams
In a place with freedom rep
Some want to take a vicious step
Pass sit-lie ordinance to announce
That in these streets po-lice can pounce
As if there aren’t already laws
Protecting those sharp business claws.
This strikes a sad and sour note
Of cruelty, called the scapegoat
As if the cause of economic woe
Is poor folks with no place to go
When what has caused us all to bleed
Is sheer unmitigated corporate greed!
In a place once known for freedom
Defeat such laws—we just don’t need ‘em.
We lend our voices to proclaim
That Berkeley must defeat sit-lie
if Berkeley wants to keep its name!


by Julia Vinograd

Teenagers sprout from cracks in the sidewalk
like weeds. Pliant, pushy.
Merchants want sidewalks paved over
and people without roots
pulled out by their roots.
Kittens, spikes, piercings, puppies.
Merchants worry about tattoos.
Does writing on bodies lead to writing on walls?
Is there a clear and present danger
of tattooed dragons burning their window displays?
Can tattooed pirate ships sink merchant ships
with their holds full of keychains
and souvenir ashtrays?
Teenagers wear leather jackets
over a public disturbance of soft and warm.
Teenagers wear chain necklaces bolted over smooth throats.
Chain stores. Locked out. Locked in.
They’re a skinny, damp-palmed sprawl
playing peek-a-boo with death
and blocking the doorways.
A girl with purple hair lost her bellybutton ring
and wants the others to help her look.
No one pays much attention.
Night’s coming and they’re all out of cigarettes.
They talk about clubs and bands but it’s just talk.
If there were light they might be lovely.
If there were time they might be young.

Home Free

Song by Jim Byron

I wrote this song after I left college without a diploma, and knew I would be living a vagabond’s life, and I knew that I would be homeless. But I didn’t like that word, “homeless.” It didn’t sit right with me. I was home free. I sat on many a sidewalk singing this song. That is why I support the fight against this “sit/lie” law. We need more places to sit on the sidewalks, not a law saying no one can sit there. Period.
You are home, my friend, Home free
You are home, my friend
There’s nothing you’d rather be
Some may call you homeless but that’s false cos
You got your home everywhere you roam
Some may call you hopeless but that’s false cos
You got hope that they have never known
Some may call you useless but that’s false cos
You are used to lending your helping hand
You are home, Home with me
You are home, Home free, yeah
There’s nothing you’d rather be
From the thirsty wasteland to the isles
The shining desert to the sea a’ moaning
From the prosper ranges to death valley
Whispering ghost towns to the ‘urbs a’growing
There’s nothing that you’d wish to be owning
Than to hear the windy freedom choir sing out
Home, Home free
Home, Home free, oh yeah!
There’s no place that you’d rather be
May you always be welcomed somehow
May you always be allowed inside
Trustworthy for when you have nothing to show
You surely haven’t got nothing to hide
Trust me my friend nothing shall confine you now
You’ve got infinite karma waves to ride
You’re invincible!
You’re home, You’re home free
You’re home, You’re home within
There’s no one you’d rather be

Tell Big Brother Where to Go

We Don’t Want You to Have to Push Little Old Ladies and Homeless Veterans Around Even More Than You Do Now.

by Ava Bird

Dear Berkeley Police Officer:
First of all, THANK YOU for all your hard work on our streets! For showing up to car accidents, stranded motorists first and other horrors & twisted scenarios!
I am writing this letter to inform you of the changes in your job status. See, as a citizen of the community, a nice neighbor and caring member of society, we wanted to share with you some drastic changes to your chosen career path:
We know you are a professional and chose your profession as a high calling — and as some of your own cars say, “to protect and to serve.” As a public service paid for by taxpayers, I guess we are sorta your boss. We pay your paychecks and, unfortunately, the bearers of some pretty scary and bad news: See, your pimp daddy, the city council, mayor, board, etc., are planning an underhanded attack on you with a new proposed law — though without guns, batons, or spray mace, they are going over your heads and attacking your very daily responsibilities.

Artwork by Tiffany Sankary

Their callous decisions will make you a clean-up crew, the shit sweepers in these sweeping new changes in your pay structure and increased responsibilities (Was this in your job description?!?)
I know your original intention was to help humanity, serve your community, unionize and rescue your neighbors. We know it’s a hard job, some of you even become alcoholics in the process, with the horrors of humanity.
I respect you as a community member, a human being, and want you to maintain dignity as a public employee! We don’t want you to have to push little old ladies and homeless veterans around even more than you do now, and, in fact, this would make it illegal for even YOU to gather with your doughnuts on sidewalks — we don’t want to have do a citizen’s arrest!
Damn Man, I just wish we could all just get along!
And even though I don’t want to see you in my neighborhood, in my rearview & hope against hope you never have to come over, I still wish you all the best, understand your chosen profession and glad I don’t have to do it. I have compassion for what you do and want you to retain your dignity! We know you don’t want to have to harass people more now, you’d have to be Monsanto to get away with that! Or at least a private corporation!
Officer, We are calling on You! Our public servants who protect and serve, now the tables are turned, we must “protect and serve” YOU! We, as unionized community, want clean safe streets too & are propositioning you to stand up for sitting down. We need you to “Get Tough, cop!” STAND UP! Woman and Man up! Stand up for your right to sit down now!
Please join your neighbors and fellow human beings to protest your city’s ridiculous attempt to control sitting down in public spaces. We need more park benches and areas to sit and rest and listen to the birds sing, not criminalize this activity! Come on! This is fascist, sick, insane and absolutely unbelievable in the city of Berkeley. Tell Big Brother where to go, my friend.
A very concerned neighbor on behalf of the Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down brigade