All posts by PB Floyd

The Block of Horror: Chainstores Swallow Berkeley

Looking at the block of Shattuck Avenue between Durant and Channing streets, there is no way to tell that you’re standing in Berkeley, California, rather than in Kansas City, San Diego, Columbus or Atlanta. Like downtown strips across the globe, Berkeley too is increasingly occupied by unbroken rows of chainstores, populated by underpaid, de-skilled, part-time workers, and controlled from afar by massive corporations. The Block of Horror in downtown Berkeley features a Barnes & Noble unit, a Jamba Juice smoothie counter, a Blockbuster Video and an antiseptic High Tech Burrito. At least so far, it is one of the few blocks of unbroken chainstores in Berkeley.

Unfortunately, the Block of Horror is far from an aberration: most new businesses that open in Berkeley are chains, and chains are gradually replacing locally owned shops. In the last 5 years, downtown Berkeley has gained a Starbuck’s coffee, an Eddie Bauer, a Ben & Jerry’s, a Taco Bell, a Ross Dress For Less, Ms. Fields Cookies, and a Walgreens. If things keep going in the same direction, far from being a relative rarity, the Block of Horror may soon became the norm in Berkeley, as virtually identical blocks already represent the norm most everywhere else in the United States. Even in the world.

It is especially surprising to see the Block of Horror in a town with nationally known, locally-run bookstores and restaurants, and within blocks of a really impressive locally owned video store. Twenty or thirty years ago, Berkeley residents unceasingly fought chainstores when they appeared, such as the Gap and Tower Records on Telegraph, which were both repeatedly protested, boycotted and even looted. The new wave of chainstores is being welcomed, even celebrated, by Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean and downtown landlord interests. They can’t seem to tell the difference between revitalizing downtown with more businesses, and sowing the seeds of the downtown’s destruction by bringing in chainstores which will suck the downtown dry, and which ultimately have no commitment to the success of downtown Berkeley over the success of any of their outlets in any random mall in Iowa. It is highly ironic that local Chambers of Commerce like the one in Berkeley actually want to bring in chainstores, since the chains’ agenda is to eliminate all local businesses, centralizing decision making and the economy into distant corporate board rooms. For downtown property owners, chainstores are a boon because they can pay higher rents. These higher rents, together with relentless competition from chains so large that they can win price breaks from suppliers, are precisely what drives locally owned stores under.

The increasing success of chainstores is part of a trend whereby consumption is increasingly centrally managed. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, factory owners learned how to centrally organize production for greater efficiency. One-hundred and fifty years later, factory technology is incredibly efficient, and the heads of industry have now turned to the management of consumers to achieve the highest rates of consumption using the least inputs of resources. Chainstores, and increasingly internet commerce, represent the highest technology of managed consumerism.

Scientific market research (together with mass media advertising) determine what the consumers will buy. Massive corporations, funded with billions from Wall Street, achieve economies of scale by vertically integrating purchasing, distribution and retail, or by cutting sweetheart deals with producers. On the local level, retail sales are conducted through chainstores units, centrally designed and managed to standards established through research. Each unit is connected to the central office using computers and satellites with efficiency never before possible. The chain’s average wages are lower since fewer skilled employees are required to operate a chainstore.

By contrast, locally owned retail outlets are highly inefficient because they can’t order by the truck full, they don’t have access to national market research and advertising, and their design and marketing decisions are made unscientifically, according to individual taste. According to chain-think, independent stores must be replaced so that chains can gain market share and dominate.

A community that loses all local control or contact with the functions of the economy–production, consumption, meeting human needs–is doomed as a community. Globalization of the economy has repeatedly demonstrated that multi-national corporations have no commitment to any particular place, and will remove jobs or services as soon as it becomes economically attractive to do so. A community dominated by chains and massive multi-national employers cannot exercise any local, democratic control over what labor and environmental responsibilities businesses have to the community. Instead, unaccountable corporate boards gain unfettered power over how or whether local residents will work, and what they will consume.

Chainstores rarely invest in the communities in which they locate. Instead, every dollar spent at a chain is paid as profit to investors or is concentrated at its corporate office for more investment in new outlets elsewhere.

As chainstores increasingly dominate retail, local character and the possibility for innovation are lost. Local opportunities to break out of the corporate rat race by using local currencies or by setting up cooperatives or collectives are frustrated. It becomes increasingly difficult to talk to the person in charge who can make changes.

To preserve democracy and communities worth living in, chainstores must be fought. And this doesn’t just mean not buying from them. Its time for creative and militant tactics to attack these blights on the community. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Barnes & Noble

Type of Business: Books

Number of Units in the Chain: 1,011

Crimes against Freedom: B&N is the largest bookstore chain on the planet with annual sales exceeding $3 billion. It recently announced plans to merge with the world’s largest wholesale book distributor, Ingram. Together, B&N and Ingram would control 40 percent of all books sold in America. B&N and fellow mega-chain Borders together have driven thousands of independent bookstores out of the market, replacing them with bland corporate culture, lower wages, less local character and less local control. As the chains have exploded, market share for independent booksellers has dropped from 24.2 percent in 1993 to 17.2 in 1997. These chains won’t carry books (and ideas) published by small presses unless the small presses can afford to print massive runs, subject to massive returns if the books don’t sell in a few weeks.

Locally owned Alternatives: (not complete list) Black Oak books, 1491 Shattuck, 486-0698 Cody’s Books, 2454 Telegraph Ave, 845-9096 Dark Carnival, 3086 Claremont, 654-7323 Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo, 548-3402 Gaia books, 1400 Shattuck Ave, 548-4172 Mama Bears, 6536 Telegraph Ave., 428-9684 Moes Books, 2476 Telegraph, 849-2087 Shakespeare’s, 2499 Telegraph, 841-8916 Sierra Club, 6014 College Ave, 658-7470 Walden Pond, 3314 Grand Ave., 832-4438

Jamba Juice

Type of Business: Smoothies Number of Units in the Chain: 221 (including 96 stores in recently acquired Zuka Juice chain) Crimes against Freedom: JJ is the nation’s largest smoothie chain, hoping to cash in on the exploding market, which was expected to have total sales of $504 million for 1998. JJ had sales of over $55 million last year. Since starting in 1995 with early venture capital funding from Howard Schultz, president of Starbucks, the chain’s founder Kirk Perron has been fond of making pretentious claims: We do a lot to create a passion around the higher purpose, which is really about enriching people’s lives. Locally owned Alternatives: (not complete list) Juice Bar Collective, 2114 Vine, 548-8473 Smart Alec’s, Durant & Telegraph

Blockbuster Video

Type of Business: Video rental

Number of Units in the Chain: 4,438 in US

2,005 internationally in 26 countries.

Crimes against Freedom: Blockbuster is the largest video chain on Earth with 38 million people in the US holding cards. It boasts of operating a store within a 10 minute drive of virtually every major neighborhood in the United States. Their mission is to be the global leader in rentable home entertainment. After only 12 years in business, it controls one-third of the video market in the US. Blockbuster’s third quarter 1998 revenues were up 13.3 percent after the chain worked out deals with Hollywood studios to get hundreds of copies of each movie on a profit-sharing basis, permitted Blockbuster to avoid paying up-front costs. These deals, unavailable to independent video stores are putting thousands of independent video stores out of business, and may be challenged in a Federal anti-trust suit.

Locally owned Alternatives: (not complete list) Good Vibrations, 22504 San Pablo, 841-8987 Movie Image, 64 Shattuck Sq, 649-0296 Rasputin Video, 2411 Telegraph, 486-2690 Videots, 2988 College, 540-0222

High Tech Burrito

Type of Business: Food

Number of Units in the Chain: 16 Crimes against Freedom: The so-far smaller chain, which tries to take the Mexican out of burritos, recently pioneered technology to permit people to pay with their ATM card if they let a computer scan their fingerprints. We’ll see if this format eventually makes it big.

Locally owned Alternatives: (not complete list) La Cascada, 2164 Center St., 704-8688 Mi Tierra, 1401 University, 841-1544 Taqueria La Familia 2971 Shattuck, 548-3420

Action alert Last chance for Mumia Abu Jamal

In the wake of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s denial of Mumia Abu Jamal’s last state appeal on October 26, the government is closer to executing a political prisoner than it has been since the Rosenbergs were electrocuted in the 1950s. Although attorneys have filed a petition for rehearing, Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge could sign a death warrant to kill the award-winning journalist, former Black Panther and radical at any time.

Mumia was wrongly convicted of killing a Philadelphia policeman in 1982 after a trial tainted by extensive governmental misconduct. Physical evidence and credible witnesses demonstrate that Mumia could not have killed the officer. Mumia has now been on death row for 17 years, during which time he has continued his work as a journalist despite the state’s attempts to silence him.

It now appears that Mumia’s last chance to survive is a final federal appeal, and more importantly, the Court of public opinion. Despite some publicity, including the film “Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?” which aired on national television, Mumia is hardly a household word and it is possible that an innocent radical will be executed without most Americans even knowing about it. Mumia’s case has received much more attention outside the US than here at home, and worldwide Mumia’s case is considered an example of America’s racist injustice system running wild.

Protests are planned worldwide soon after governor Ridge signs Mumia’s death warrant. In the Bay Area, meet the Tuesday after the death warrant is signed at 5:30 p.m., Montgomery and Market St., San Francisco (Montgomer BART.) To get involved in efforts to raise awareness of Mumia’s case and save his life, call 415-431-3594. You can also call governor Ridge and demand that he order a new trial for Mumia: Tom Ridge, Main Capitol Building, Rm 2225, Harrisburg, PA 17120, governor@ stata.PA.US, 717-787-2500. Or, let the State of Pennsylvania’s

Defeat the Multilateral Agreement on Invesment

Proposed global trade treaty would threaten workers,
the enviorement and democracy

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is a bill of internationally enforceable rights and freedoms for corporations against most types of government regulation. Although hardly anyone knows what the MAI says and what it would do, if passed, it has the potential to be the strongest weapon yet for huge multi- national corporations against the world’s workers, democracy and the environment. Because there are no internationally enforceable treaties to protect human, labor or environmental rights, MAI very literally gives corporations more legal rights than people or governments.

In April, international trade representatives at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris announced that they were shelving for six months negotiations on the MAI. This gives opponents of MAI a short period in which to rally to defeat the treaty. Because the MAI is so dangerous, it is essential that people quickly learn what the MAI is and build a global movement to smash it.

Although the agreement is hundreds of pages long and complex, the core of the treaty makes the right to invest and move money a legally enforceable private property right. MAI would for the first time in history give transnational corporations standing equal to governments to sue other national, state or local governments in either local or international courts. Suits could be brought seeking hundreds of millions of dollars of damages if any national, state or local government made any rule which restricted corporate actions in a way considered to be tantamount to expropriation. This definition would not require that a government actually take property from a corporation. Regulations, including those preventing an investment which was merely planned, would be enough.

For example, under rules similar to the MAI contained in NAFTA, Ethyl Corp., a US transnational, has sued Canada for $250 million in damages because Canada banned MMT, a fuel additive and dangerous neurotoxin. Although the Canadian ban was based on environmental grounds, Ethyl has argued that the ban constitutes an illegal expropriation of its assets, since it would have made money on MMT had it not been banned.

The expropriation rules could prevent governments from saving forests, limiting mining, or slowing urban sprawl. Under MAI, governments around the world could be prevented from passing any environmental regulations to avoid being sued.

MAI also sets international standards for environmental and labor regulations and prevents governments from passing any law which would help workers or the environment more than permitted under these standards. These rules are called standstill. The MAI also contains rollback rules which would require governments to gradually get rid of rules that provide more protection than the international standards.

The MAI would be binding on state and local governments and laws (in addition to national governments and laws), although only the Federal governments would agree to MAI. Therefore, cities like Berkeley and San Francisco would be prohibited from passing laws providing stricter labor and environmental protections than international standards. In addition, any local government trade sanctions, like bans against buying South African or Burmese goods, would be banned. Under MAI, San Francisco’s domestic partners law and Berkeley’s gasoline boycotts would be prohibited.

The MAI is designed to quicken the pace of economic globalization. MAI will make it easier for multinational corporations to ship investment capital and jobs anywhere in the world. This allows transnationals to shop for the country with the lowest wages, worst working conditions, and most lax environmental standards, while simultaneously punishing any government or people who try to protect living standards and the environment. The final result is to centralize ever more wealth and power in unaccountable corporations while people lose the ability to pass laws to protect themselves from the corporations.

Because MAI threatens the lives and health of the majority of the worlds peoples, the transnational corporations that back MAI and their government lackeys tried to keep MAI a secret for as long as possible. Its text was secret until a draft was leaked and put on the internet in January 1997. The MAI has gotten little media coverage and the Clinton Administration has kept its participation quiet.

World leaders choose to negotiate MAI through the OECD as part of a clever attempt to exclude most of the world’s governments from the process. The OECD is made up of the 29 richest industrialized nations. Once MAI is approved by the OECD countries, the OECD plans to present MAI to the rest of the world’s nations for approval with no changes permitted. Any country wanting access to the world’s capital markets will have no choice but to sign on. Resist the MAI

People around the world have begun to rise up against the process of economic globalization which, like colonialism before it, concentrates the world’s wealth in a few western hands. From India to Mexico to Indonesia to Brazil, millions in non-OECD countries now oppose the World Trade Organization and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and are ready to fight MAI.

And in many OECD countries opposition is gathering. Since the United States is one of the main countries pushing passage of the MAI, activists in the US have a pivotal role to play in defeating MAI.

The Clinton Administration, in an attempt to avoid organized opposition to MAI, is trying to pass fast track trade legislation that will strip Congress of the ability to amend MAI, forcing it to either approve or reject MAI if Clinton treats MAI as an agreement rather than a treaty. Fast track will also allow approval by a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution for a treaty.

Aside from opposing and defeating fast track authority, the most important way to oppose MAI is to make sure everyone in the US knows what it would mean for their lives. The mainstream press, controlled by global corporations set to reap billions if MAI is finished, have kept news about MAI out of the news. Activists need to break the silence.

To get involved in the struggle against MAI, contact the International Forum on Globalization, 1555 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109, 415-771-3394,

Work Less, Play More

Berkeley Initiative would require full pay for 35 hours of work

An initiative measure on the Berkeley ballot this November, if passed, would require Berkeley employers to reduce the work week to 35 hours, with no reduction in pay, and pay double time for all hours worked over 35 hours.

Although the 35-for-40  law must be passed on a state or national level in order to be truly effective, and although the measure does not appear to cut the work week for the many salaried workers in Berkeley, folks should pass  35-for-40

Although government reports show that US unemployment is low right now, the government statistics don t count the long-term unemployed.  And, the US numbers count under-employed and part time workers as employed, distorting the picture.     Decreasing the work week will mean more full time, good jobs at better wages.  A 35 hour week also gives workers more hours to enjoy life or participate in their families.  In a era when almost every parent works, the 35 hour week is  pro-family.

The Berkeley ballot measure would apply to all Berkeley businesses licensed by the city or having contracts with the city.  In addition to requiring double time for hours worked in excess of 35, the bill would make compulsory hours over 35 illegal.  The proposed law is similar to a bill introduced in Congress in 1980 by Rep. John Conyers of Detroit.  That bill would have created an estimated 7 million extra jobs nationally, but it was never voted on.  Currently, American workers are working a longer work week than workers in almost any other industrial country.  Although the 35-for-40 law would only apply in Berkeley, and it is admittedly difficult to make labor standards advances in one small city in a competitive capitalist context, Berkeley voters need to vote their self- interest and pass 35-for-40. 

Voting against giving yourself an extra hour everyday shows a lack of self-respect and is, in a word, pathetic.  Passage of such a law in Berkeley would put cutting the work week back on the political map in the US for the first time since the 1930s.    A majority of Berkeley s voters work for someone else, either getting a salary or a wage.  Salaried workers should vote with those who earn wages, as a majority of Californians recently voted on the minimum wage increase ballot measure which recently passed.  Although not everyone earns the minimum wage, and not everyone would benefit from 35-for-40, it advances the interests of everyone who works for an employer.  That the media has already dismissed the measure s likelihood of passing, and that even the progressive politicians in Berkeley have not endorsed 35-for-40, only shows how far American political discussion has been dominated by the boss s interests.    Having a 35 hour week in Berkeley may cause some bosses to move certain jobs to Oakland or elsewhere, which is why the 35-for-40 ballot measure in Berkeley is only a first step.  If it can be passed in Berkeley, the next step is passing a similar law at the state and national level.  Ultimately, getting a fair share requires more than just voting – mass organizing, union drives, and worker solidarity on an international level are required to achieve any adjustment in the distribution of wealth between workers and bosses.  Reducing the work week gives workers more of the wealth they produce, and bosses will never voluntarily accept it.

The Share the Work Committee, which wrote the ballot measure and collected over 3000 signatures to get it on the ballot, is planning a grassroots campaign to pass 35-for-40.  Volunteers and donations are need.

Contact the Committee at 841-7460 or write to PO Box 5832, Berkeley, CA 94705.

Ban All Clearcuts!

A measure on the November ballot in Oregon gives voters there the opportunity to ban clearcutting, the use of herbicides and other environmentally irresponsible logging practices in Oregon s forests. The Oregon Forest Conservation Initiative (OFCI) would require environmentally sensitive and labor intensive logging methods. This could create more forest related jobs in Oregon logging communities that have lost jobs, even as the pace of deforestation in Oregon has increased.

After more than 100 years of logging, less than 5 percent of the original old growth forests remain in Oregon. Over-cutting and road-building have caused significant soil erosion and have eliminated wildlife habitat. Repeated clearcutting and poor forestry practices will eventually render Oregon forestland incapable of producing any wood products at all.

The OFCI, if passed by voters, would provide that clearcutting shall no longer be a lawful forest practice on federal, state and private forestlands in Oregon. Clearcutting is defined as any timber harvest which leaves fewer than 70 well-distributed trees at least 11 inches in diameter per acre. The measure also bans cutting any tree in Oregon that measures more than 30 inches in diameter at breast height, effectively preventing the cutting of the oldest trees. The ballot measure requires that the state Board of Forestry rewrite logging regulations to minimize the use of heavy equipment and roads to prevent soil compaction and erosion and maximize the replanting of a diversity of native tree species. The Board of Forestry would also have to require timber harvesting methods which maintain or maximize areas of large, live trees, standing dead trees, and large, downed logs to provide habitat for species dependent upon such habitat on at least 50 percent of each harvest unit.

The OFCI also contains a citizen suit enforcement provision that would award attorneys fees to citizens suing to enforce the law. Finally, the law contains provisions aimed at triggering Federal Clean Water laws to restrict logging on Federally owned lands, which cannot be controlled by the Oregon law. The measure is an impressive example of how environmentalists can use the ballot initiative process to put supposedly unrealistic laws to a vote.

Oregonians for Labor Intensive Forest Economics (OLIFE) director Gary Kutcher writes of attempting to get forest protections passed by the Oregon legislature: In the Oregon legislature, we came face to face with the dozens of lobbyists representing the timber industry, chemical companies and other huge corporations. We watched with dismay as legislator after legislator capitulated to the political pressures these lobbyists exerted and we came to the earnest conclusion that if the forests of Oregon are to be given serious protections through tough ecological forestry standards, that it will be the people of Oregon who will accomplish this via a stateside ballot initiative.

OLIFE collected almost 100,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Most were collected by volunteers. Now they hope to get 2,000 Oregon volunteers to leaflet and campaign to pass the initiative. OLIFE expects a vigorous, and well-funded, campaign against the measure by the timber industry and corporate interests.

To help pass the OFCI, contact OLIFE at 454 Willamette #211, Eugene, OR 97401, 541-683-1494 (Eugene) or 1017 S.W. Morrison #301, Portland, OR 97205, 503-294-0681 (Portland). They are also seeking donations. For a copy of the OFCI and lots of other excellent information about ecological logging methods, purchase the new book Can We Restore Paradise? from OFCI for $5 ($2 each for 5 or more copies). Please include postage $$–they weigh about 6 ounces each.

Free the Buses

Cars get subsidised by driving on free roads
it s time transit users got a free ride

While Congress recently passed a $218.3 billion, six-year highway bill to subsidise more car driving and new suburban sprawl, AC Transit bus service continues to be whittled away. AC Transit buses; which underserves densely populated East Bay cities and its more colourful and poorer ridership; run less frequently, fewer hours, and on fewer routes. Anyone entirely dependent on buses and other public transit for getting around faces increasing isolation. When Berkeley mayoral candidate Don Jelinek recently announced his candidacy, he proposed making AC transit buses free to everyone anywhere within the Berkeley city limits.

Jelinek has discussed the idea with the AC Transit Board and other officials and believes transit service could be made free by pooling money already spent by large Berkeley employers such as LBL, Alta Bates, Bayer and UC on their own shuttle vans or on subsidies for bus service. There are also state and federal grants available to get the idea off the ground. Santa Clara County already runs free bus service almost entirely with private money

In return for a steady funding flow, AC Transit would take over the major employer and UC van or bus service, which is currently provided by private services, and provide special, new AC lines servicing the employees or students, plus anyone else who cared to ride. Since AC transit would have a steady source of money from the city, it could afford to work with Berkeley to increase service city wide, including more frequent service and the use of more vans or smaller buses where appropriate.

Unlike in Seattle and Santa Cruz, where free bus service is provided only in the downtown area mainly to avoid heavy traffic in the business district, Jelinek favors a citywide service so that all of Berkeley s residents could benefit from the free service. In contract, a few years ago Emeryville introduced limited free bus service that only went from BART to major employers, but skipped local residents along San Pablo Avenue. Such free; service is really a further subsidy to commuters and business that seems designed to avoid service to poorer customers.

Jelinek points out that people might start making short trips within Berkeley by bus instead of car if they didn t have to pay to get on the bus. He hopes free and better bus service would draw people out of their cars and relieve the parking crunch throughout Berkeley.

Reclaim the Streets: Berkeley

Thinking globally, partying locally

About 700 people in Berkeley reclaimed the streets on May 16, as part of an international Global Street Party against the global economy and the global environmental destruction it is causing.

The Reclaim the Streets (RTS) movement, hatched in London in 1995, brings environmental direct action to an urban context. Car transportation, and the disastrous urban sprawl, pollution and social disintegration that goes along with it, is the urban equivalent of a clearcut. In England, RTS is the urban wing of Earth First! campaigns to save the countryside from more roads. The Berkeley RTS made the links between cars/car dominated streets and the global capitalist system which is increasingly impoverishing and disenfranchising workers everywhere.

Demonstrators in Berkeley RTS at the downtown BART station at 7 p.m. The large crowd, half on foot and half on bikes, marched down the street a few blocks waiving black flags and carrying a 25 foot long banner reading Take back our lives–Reclaim the Streets. Then the march divided with the bikes peddling straight for a Critical Mass to the secret location of the Street Party while the march turned left. On the way to the Street Party location, the march picked up couches, rugs and other props that had been left the night before in hidden locations.

At Telegraph Avenue, the march and the Critical Mass ride triumphantly met up with couches, bikes and flags held high. The rejoined group took a side trip to get around a line of cops and finally ended up at the intersection selected for the Street Party. An advance action group had already blockaded Telegraph Ave. with an old donated car and blocked a side street with dumpsters and signs. The intersection had been reclaimed!

A mobile sound system churned out tunes while the intersection was transformed into a living room with dozens of couches, rugs and miscellaneous furniture. Free food tables were set up, folks smashed up and overturned the car, smoked pot, danced and socialized. A TV smashing got a little out of hand as glass covered the dance floor. Then parts of the crowd ignited a toxic bonfire with some of the couches, while other people in the crowd repeatedly put out the fire. Finally, the fire was extinguished and the party got into full swing, lasting several hours. Activists handed out about 1,000 flyers explaining the politics behind the event: Welcome to a rupture of the everyday. Before you is a street party: a community festival on the [paved over] town square. By dancing and playing–turning the pavement into a playground–we are reclaiming the street from the automobile which ruins the street by making it a place to be moved through not lived in. We believe the city and the street should be for people to live, meet others and celebrate creativity and freedom. The city should serve the human community, not mechanized consumerism. Cars are only the most visible and tangible representative of an inhuman consumer society which is smashing community, constricting human spontaneity and freedom and destroying the Earth’s life support system.

Berkeley RTS was a huge success and plans are developing for another international RTS event, this time with much greater participation in the United States (which needs a vibrant anti-roads movement far more than England.) In addition to Berkeley RTS being one of the largest demonstrations for a few years in Berkeley, it managed to simultaneously take on capitalism and environmental destruction with direct action tactics. Particularly inspiring was the international aspect as thousands around the world with the same vision for a democratic and sustainable future gathered to rage against a global enemy that can only be challenged by an international movement.

No Freedom Without Communications

Injunction shuts down Free Radio Berkeley but the fight for micro-powered, community radio continues

Free Radio Berkeley, which for the past three and a half years had been openly broadcasting 24 hours a day on 104.1 FM after Federal Judge Claudia Wilken refused to grant the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) an injunction to shut the station down, went off the air June 16 after Wilken finally issued the FCC its injunction. The injunction order, based on a legal technicality which the judge said prevented her from ruling on the constitutional issues raised by FRB during the lengthy litigation, brought an abrupt end to one of the most original and revolutionary radio stations ever.

Under the injunction, anyone acting in active concert or participation with FRB founder Stephen Dunifer faces contempt of court charges for making any radio transmissions or doing any act, whether direct or indirect, to cause unlicensed radio transmissions or to enable such radio transmissions to occur.

The harsh and overbroad injunction language convinced many in FRB that continued open, on-air broadcasting as Free Radio Berkeley carried a significant possibility of arrest and harsh punishment. An FRB meeting the day the injunction issued voted to temporarily go off the air to save the transmitter from seizure and make a plan for its defense. The station never went back on the air. Decision making was paralyzed in divisive meetings following the injunction and many former DJs drifted away in disgust or fear.

Finally, over a month down the road, initial disorganization is being supplanted by diversified strategies to continue the struggle for participatory community access to the radio airwaves.

Covert Broadcasting Service

Soon after the injunction, unidentified persons have returned to FRB’s roots, making covert broadcasts from the hills on 104.1 FM, mostly on weekend nights. Calling themselves the Covert Broadcasting Service (CBS), rumors are circulating that additional underground broadcasting cells may soon form to reclaim 104.1 FM seven days a week, at least in the evenings. Although the unusual schedule and barriers to wide participation posed by the need for secrecy and the mobile, hill location means that CBS is unlikely to soon replace Free Radio Berkeley’s role as a community station, CBS shows that resistance continues and is possible. Media interest in CBS has kept the fights against corporate control of the airwaves in the public eye.

Since the injunction only affects those acting in concert with Dunifer, most would-be broadcasters in Berkeley and Northern Californian now face the same risks always faced by other micro broadcasters around the US. And these risks may not be as great as the FCC would like people to think they are.

Even before the injunction, micro broadcasters outside of California faced intermittent FCC raids and threats. In most cases, micro broadcasters received numerous warnings, but the FCC rarely followed through with military-style raids. The FCC has always had the power to seize unlicensed transmitters and levy fines against micro-broadcasters. And, the Communications Act has always carried criminal penalties for unlicensed broadcasts, although they are rarely used. In the only recent criminal prosecution, Lonnie Kobres, who faced up to 28 years for illegal broadcasts, was sentenced July 14 to 3 years probation, 6 months of house arrest and a $7,000 fine for micro-broadcasts in Florida. The judge didn’t buy the FCC’s claims that Mr. Kobres was a threat to public safety for exercising his free speech. Kobres is the only recent criminal case out of thousands who have gone on the air over the past year.

The FCC’s actions locally have demonstrated that it is still possible to get away with micro-powered broadcasting. Only a week after the injunction, two unidentified individuals calling themselves Free Radio Cedar Tree broadcast on 104.1 FM from the Berkeley hills. Although FCC agents located them in 15 minutes, the FCC didn’t try to arrest them or seize their transmitter. They merely asked them to turn the transmitter off. After attempting to interview the FCC live on the air, the radio rebels shut down and escaped into the night.

Another form of civil disobedience- broadcasting is to transmit from public events. On the Fourth of July, two dozen people openly broadcast on 104.1 FM from the Independence Day celebration at the Berkeley Marina. Although the broadcast was in broad daylight, the FCC took no action. Broadcasts from demonstrations or even house parties combine a media stunt with the relative safety that numbers provide against FCC intervention. Of course, scattered public broadcasts may have few listeners, since its impossible to know when or where to tune in.

Some former FRB DJs have also rebuilt the FRB studio to legally transmit audio files over the internet. While this project can potentially reach a worldwide audience (of those with computers) and is interesting in its own right, it hardly replaces local, on-air broadcasts.

Nationally, the injunction seems to have encouraged FCC repression against other open micro broadcasters. Soon after the FRB injunction, Radio Mutiny in Philadelphia, one of the best organized micro radio stations aside from Free Radio Berkeley, was raided by FCC agents, who seized all equipment in sight, but made no arrests. Radio Mutiny recently hosted an East Coast micro radio conference and was involved in high profile publicity efforts. The FCC apparently targeted it to eliminate another vocal critic.

Several other micro stations, including San Francisco Liberation Radio, have also recently gone off the air after receiving FCC threats or in reaction to the injunction in Berkeley. A national micro-radio Pledge of Resistance is being circulated so people can commit to defending stations threatened by FCC action.

Legal Implications

Free Radio Berkeley lawyers immediately attacked the injunction by filing a motion for reconsideration. Unfortunately, motions for reconsideration are rarely granted. If the motion for reconsideration is denied, an appeal is also possible. During all of the possible future legal maneuvering, however, it appears that the injunction will be in force, preventing Free Radio Berkeley from openly broadcasting.

The Court injunction stated that Free Radio Berkeley didn’t have standing to use a constitutional defense to the FCC’s injunction action because it had never applied for (and been denied) a license to broadcast.

The ruling may be vulnerable since the FCC has continuously stated that it would automatically deny a micro power license application from Free Radio Berkeley if one was made. The Court’s reasoning requires micro radio proponents to be rich enough to spend about $100,000 to apply for a micro-powered FCC license (which doesn’t exist) so they can be denied in order to show they have standing to challenge whether the FCC rules which limit broadcasting to the rich are constitutional! In addition to the $3,000 FCC application fee, an FCC license applicant has to submit expensive engineering studies and prove that the applicant has a one year advance supply of operating funds. Radio Mutiny in Philadelphia attempted to apply for a license with a fee waiver, but the application was denied without reaching the micro-power issue.

Into the Future

Ultimately, the period during which Judge Wilken refused to grant the FCC its injunction was an unprecedented opportunity to build a movement for micro powered, community radio. During the three and a half year opening, hundreds of transmitters were built and distributed around the country and thousands of people coast-to-coast experienced first-hand the potential that micro radio represents.

At a time when fewer and fewer mega-corporations dominate the airwaves, when radio formats sound the same from New York to LA, micro-power radio represents a huge opportunity for a different model of radio broadcasting. Micro power is cheap, simple and accessible, allowing communities and individuals to have a voice. The Free Radio movement received extensive media coverage over the last three years partly because the alternative to corporate domination that it represents is so attractive, even to members of the corporate media.

At this stage of the micro radio movement, as litigation to challenge the constitutionality of FCC regulation of the airwaves continues, although without a legal gray area to permit open broadcasting in Berkeley, the movement needs to redouble its efforts to reach middle America with the message that there is another way. Under the Communications Act, the FCC is charged with regulating in the public interest. Their gross mismanagement of the airwaves must be exposed for what it is: a giveaway to corporations.

Efforts thus far against the FCC have been largely focused on litigation. There are now enough proponents of micro powered radio throughout the country to better develop a second, politically-oriented attack.

Since the start of 1998, at least two petitions for rulemaking have been filed with the FCC to permit forms of micro-powered broadcasting. The petitions, developed by small-business persons, aren’t exclusively focused on allowing non-profit, community oriented radio as envisioned by Free Radio activists, but they show that changes in FCC rules may be on the horizon. Public comment is accepted on every proposed rulemaking, and Free Radio needs to have its comments heard. Free Radio activists need to get involved in this process to amend the existing petitions and write new ones so that the new rules better reflect the public interest.

Various FCC officials have also recently given lip service to taking another look at smaller, community oriented radio. Unfortunately, their words ring hollow. The explosion in use of cell phones and digital technology, including High Definition TV, are all making demands on radio spectrum space. All of these technologies are championed by the kind of well-funded, massive corporate interests that the FCC has a long history of serving. Nonetheless, Free Radio activists should use their words to demand action.

The network of Free Radio activists developed over the past three years can become significant critics of the FCC’s current, corporate-oriented priorities. Combining tactics such as covert broadcasting, mainstream media coverage, media stunts, teach-ins, radio trainings and micro broadcasts at public rallies, Free Radio activists can point out the alternative as well as the bankruptcy of the current FCC rules. It’s also time to recruit any politicians who aren’t already bought and paid for by the broadcast industry to the cause. The fight for free speech on the airwaves is not over; it has only begun.

To get involved call Free Radio Berkeley at 510-594-8082. Or check out or

A Vision For Telegraph Avenue

The recent crackdown on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue is largely an election year wedge issue ploy by conservative Mayor Shirley Dean and her minions to win the election by playing the homeless card. In national politics, the Republicans attack immigrants, welfare mothers and drug users to win the election; in Berkeley, it’s problematic street behavior, a code word for the homeless.

Wedge issues work because politicians address real concerns that people have with what appears to be an easy solution. If a politician can split enough people off from the other candidate by raising an emotionally charged issue, they win. And if they don’t really have any solution, well, too bad. That’s politics.

Using police against the homeless, the poor, or even problematic street behavior has never worked, can’t work, and won’t work. For six months, the police have been busy enforcing laws that don’t exist (against sitting on the sidewalks) and issuing tickets for non-crimes. Littering, having an unlicensed dog, jaywalking Ð they may be annoying (or maybe not), but they hardly rise to the level of crime. When most people think about reducing crime, they’re thinking about stopping muggings, car break-ins, assault. Using police to attack non-crimes is a misuse of resources and isn’t intended to do anything but harass people to get votes for a particular candidate. Police harassment for non-crimes may drive poor and homeless people somewhere else for a while, but unless the crackdown continues indefinitely, nothing is solved.

There have been campaigns against freaks on the Avenue since there have been freaks on the Avenue. The reason these campaigns are good election year issues is that the left, such as it is, usually has no good response to problematic street behavior other than to advocate the status quo. Arguing to stop the police crackdown, and maybe provide a few services, doesn’t provide an alternative solution for the perceived problem.

Yes, these attacks on freaks, the homeless and the poor do violate their rights. Yes, everyone has a right to live without harassment from the police. But the reason the homeless card works in local politics is because real people, good people, are annoyed by rude freaks, litter, the perception of danger. The people who feel like this probably don’t hate the poor. They probably aren’t evil. They probably don’t realize they are playing into the hands of gentrifiers, big land owners, conservatives. Their feelings are genuine.

The left must have a program for addressing the reality that people get harassed and annoyed in public spaces, especially Telegraph Avenue. We need to paint a vision for how public space can get more public and nicer for everyone to be in (including the freaks), not just sanitized by millions of cops. The right wing has their vision for public space: the shopping mall. Enclosed, climate controlled, under constant surveillance. The right wing wants to make the whole world a shopping mall.

The left needs to fight back. We envision public space like a public square that works. Different kinds of people mix and interact. If there are annoying people, they get diluted by many interesting people. A community with certain standards of interaction develops. Small businesses thrive, but you don’t have to go there just to shop. There are other non-commercial options: chess tables, games, old people having deep conversations, free live music, grass to sit on, lovers holding hands, benches.

Try to find a good bench anywhere in any modern, mallified downtown. Someone Ð conservatives, merchants, developers? Ð has used the fact that homeless people sleep on benches as an excuse to get rid of benches for everyone. Maybe benches don’t earn money for merchants. Maybe shoppers sitting on benches stay longer, taking up parking and room, and don’t spend as much.

In the leftist vision of public space, there are so many benches in public spaces that if 30 or 40 homeless people are sleeping on them, there are still hundreds more for other people to sit on and enjoy. The way the left will defeat the conservative, police crackdown-based solution for problematic street behavior is to demand that the public realm expand and improve so that everyone will want to go there. Ideas like the car free Telegraph, closed to traffic from Dwight to Bancroft, with lots of public space, are the left’s answer to police crackdowns and cleaning up the Avenue.

Police crackdowns ultimately don’t bring more shoppers out to Telegraph Avenue Ð they further brutalize and privatize public space. People learn to stay at home or go to police controlled malls.

The reason why Telegraph Avenue is worth struggling for is that Telegraph Avenue is still a public space where everyone can go, more so than most sanitized shopping areas around. It should be nurtured, not disinfected and destroyed.

Marijuana Update

Oregon Recriminalizes Marijuana

In mid-July, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber, an allegedly liberal Democrat, signed House Bill 3643, which shifts possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a non-criminal violation to a class C misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail, a $1000 fine and loss of driving privileges for six months.

In 1974, Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize marijuana by limiting punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a small fine. Previously, simple marijuana possession had been a felony crime across the U.S. In Texas and Rhode Island, simple possession could be punished with a life sentence. In 1970, California arrested 220,000 people on felony drug charges, mandating years in prison, for simple marijuana possession. Even with the felony laws, marijuana use increased, leading state after state after Oregon to decriminalize simple possession.

Eventually, 9 states, including California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina and Ohio, passed decriminalization laws and every state in the union decreased penalties for simple possession. In 1975, the California legislature made possession of less than an ounce of pot punishable by a maximum $100 fine, and prohibited cops from taking offenders to jail. (Offenders are given a citation like a traffic ticket.)

Drug law liberalization, which appeared to be moving toward legalization, lost steam in 1980 with the election of President Reagan. Now, in the wake of the passage of Prop 215 and Prop. 200 in California and Arizona, respectively, drug law reform is again on the agenda, and further liberalization or even legalization may be in the works. But Oregon is moving against the tide.

The Republican controlled legislature passed the recriminalization bill claiming that the decriminalization law was sending the wrong message to kids. So far, the recriminalization idea seems to be limited to Oregon.

DA Won’t Prosecute

On August 27, the Sacramento County District Attorney announced that it would not prosecute AIDS activist and patient Ryan Landers for smoking pot in public at a Sacramento Mall. Landers was cited by police on August 7 for lighting a joint while dining at an outdoor restaurant. He carried a letter from a doctor and a San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club ID. Patrick Marlette, an assistant DA, said the DA’s office concluded that Landers’ use of medical marijuana was not illegal under Prop 215. However, the city of Sacramento is considering a law that would prohibit pot smoking in public places. Landers, who says he needs to smoke marijuana several times per day, argues that prohibiting him from smoking in public would trap him in his house.

California Bill

SB 535, which would authorize $3 million for a three year UC study on the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana, is gaining speed in the California legislature. After the Senate passed the bill with broad, bipartisan support, Devil-child Dan Lungren announced his support for the study on August 27. The irony of the announcement is high since during the Prop. 215 campaign, Lungren wrote that there were more than 10,000 studies available documenting the harmful physical and psychological effects of smoking marijuana. I guess Lungren’s short term memory is going as he starts his run for governor . . . .

Tony Serra Goes Public

Tony Serra, renowned criminal defense attorney, issued a press release on August 4 urging other lawyers and professionals to seek prescriptions for medical marijuana to treat stress. Earlier in the summer, Serra met with his doctor for three hours going over the medical indications for a pot prescription. Serra says that he has smoked three joints per night for the last 30 years to treat himself for his high-stress lifestyle. The doctor concluded that Serra was in a high-stress category and issued the prescription. Serra is now a member of the SF Cannabis Cultivators Club.

Stockbrokers, bankers, real estate marketers, politicians, doctors and lawyers should all seek a doctor’s recommendation to avoid the psychological and physiological consequences of stress. It is time to come off the booze and get on the cannabis wrote Serra. Hey, how about mothers, truck drivers, and college students! Serra denied that his daily medicine impairs him as a trial lawyer: You can’t practice law stoned so I don’t smoke during the day. But I work 60-80 hours a week, I’m a workaholic, and pot has never affected my ability to concentrate. I want other people to know that.

Club Founder Running for Governor

Dennis Peron, founder of the San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club, which was raided by heavily armed state police last year, announced that he plans to run for Governor of California in the Republican primary against Dan Lungren. Lungren, California’s Attorney General, ordered the raid on the Club and is currently attempting to have Peron sent to prison on drug charges arising out of the raid. Peron has argued in Court that the police raid, which came only months before the election which passed Prop. 215, was a political stunt by Lungren aimed at defeating Prop. 215 and boosting Lungren’s own political power.

Proposition 215 got more votes than Lungren did in the last election according to John Entwistle, a Peron aid. Dennis is a business owner, and he has a natural Republican constituency out there — highly educated, upper income people who don’t appreciate unwarranted government intrusion.

Some Buyers Clubs

C.B.C.B.Berkeley (510)486-1025

Oakland CBC (510)832-5346

C.H.A.M.P.San Francisco (415)861-1040

Flower Therapy, SF (415)255-6305

S.F. Growers Co-Op, SF (415)621-3986

Sweetleaf Collective, SF (415)273-4663

San Jose CBC (408)847-7008

Bulldog, Sacramento (916)556-3722

Los Angeles CBC (213)874-0811

Orange County CBC (714)543-5123

San Luis Obispo (805)239-9200

Ukiah CBC (707)462-7913