From the San Diego Free Press 1969 /Transcribed by John Lawrence
It was a beautiful day for the people’s parade. The people’s parade for People’s Park.
As we arrived in Berkeley early Friday morning, people were already at work on the new People’s Park Annex, dubbed Insurrection City, built on a vacant lot owned by the Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority. Children were already sifting sand, sliding on slides, and swinging on swing sets. The parade was to start here at Grant and Hearst and proceed to the original People’s Park about a mile away.
More people started arriving. People sold the Berkeley Barb on every street corner. People of every political persuasion and organization from the Spartacists to the Christians were passing out literature. It was a welcome change from the usual Memorial Day parade where apolitical hawkers passed out trinkets, flags, hats, cotton candy and other consumer junk. The atmosphere was festive. People’s Park Annex started to swell with 30,000 people.
As noon approached, people prepared to march. There was a hint of danger in the air. People prepared themselves accordingly. Some had moist rags in plastic bags. Others had gas masks on. No one seemed prepared to withstand the buckshot Madigan had promised.
Brothers and sisters were there from all over the U.S. and abroad. San Diego was well represented with people from San Diego State, Mesa College and UCSD. People gathered under placards representing the places they were from to show their solidarity with Berkeley: Stanford, all UC branches, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO locals, university librarians. The San Francisco Mime Troupe Gorilla Band was there, bedecked in leaves and branches. They executed some snappy maneuvers and featured a groovy drummer. Everyone carried signs demanding that People’s Park be returned to the people.
People surged into the street and waited for the parade to get underway. Some speakers had been scheduled to rally the crowd, but the sound system was poor and most people couldn’t hear them. They didn’t need to anyway – the spirit was already there. The people didn’t need any message from on high in order to get together and do what they had come to do. It was a long wait and people got impatient, but finally the parade started.
All kinds of people were there: students, workers, young, old, black, white and all shades in between. Infants in strollers, old gents with canes, people in wheelchairs and on crutches – all marched for People’s Park.
All along the route people flashed ‘V’ signs from windows and cheered the marchers. Many provided water from garden hoses or from paper cups. Some old people set up a stand and were dispensing Kool-Aid and punch. Parent groups set up little stands with signs like “Parents to Prevent Thirst.” The community was with the marchers. The community was behind the marchers. The community was indistinguishable from the marchers.
There was a great feeling of solidarity. People were solidly people, transcending all barriers and demarcations like age, sex and occupation.
It was a strange parade in many ways. 30,000 strong. In bygone days, we were accustomed to seeing the people line the sidewalks while various military units, officials, prancing ponies, perfectionist bands never missing a beat or losing a step, veterans with their bellies hanging out of World War II uniforms, did their thing. But the People’s Parade for People’s Park was a different kind of Memorial Day parade. The people were in the streets and the military lined the sidewalk. All along the parade route were police, Alameda sheriffs, and National Guardsmen seeming to find their jobs distasteful because they could not cheer the marchers and join in the spirit. Streets adjacent to the parade route were sealed off–some with barbed wire, all with sullen-faced troops. The people covered the barbed wire with flowers as they would cover the cyclone fence around the People’s Park with flowers at the destination of the Parade.
Someone shouted, “Don’t throw anything at the National Guard except kisses.” That was the spirit that prevailed. The people did their thing seemingly oblivious to the military presence which surrounded them.
The march proceeded past a billboard with a big picture of one of the new picturesque Bank of America checks on. it. (See, even banks can be “with it”.) Someone had filled in the blank spaces on the check: “Pay to the order of … People’s Park. Amount …. $1,000,000. (Signed)… Madigan.”
There was a float which was the people’ s approximation to a helicopter. A quick look at the sky verified that there were a number of real helicopters, no doubt armed with various blends of gasses, intent on observing the proceedings. Blue Meanies overlooked the marchers from strategic roof-top positions.
The parade continued. Some people rode on trucks. Most walked. It was a long march. It was crowded, and it was hot. But no one seemed to mind.
A friend said to me, “This is what the revolution is all about.” And it was. And it is. Revolutionary spirit replaced empty slogans and obtuse rhetoric. It became obvious what people could do with themselves if they didn’t have to work; it was obvious in a way that could never come out of a debate. People were doing it. People were enjoying themselves and each other, and there was no way the pigs could break that spirit. There was nothing the pigs could do except keep a watchful eye. The people went right on. Danced in the streets and made love. Saw old friends they hadn’t seen in years. Boys took off their shirts; girls took off their bras. A few really liberated girls took off their shirts too. Sun on skin enjoyed irrespective of sex.
In the late afternoon people made their way back to the People’s Park Annex from which the parade had started. Children were again playing in the sand. Little unconcerned, bare-assed girls stooping over, filling their pails with sand and photographers snapping their pics. Two little girls swinging, one telling the other, “This is the people’s park. It’s for all the people. It’s a people’s park. It is. It is.” Children knew what was happening, and wide-eyed babies took it all in.
People taking up collections for wine. A truck rolled in, and a band played. An amateurish rabble-rouser tried to do his thing between tunes: “Do you love me?” Crowd: “Yeah, we love you.” “I love you too.”
Spontaneously, people created their own band. It was a rhythmic tour de force. People beat on bottles, cans, drums, the metal ventilator grating on the sidewalk beneath which the BART technology had been installed. Metal on metal. Wood on wood. Skin on skin. People scraped with rakes, beat with shovels, stirred, mixed and dug, acting out the drama of work, of building their park, now in fun, in play, in rhythm. People tapped, beat, pounded. And the rhythm never stopped well into the night. Only the rhythm section changed to protect the weary. As soon as one person laid down his instrument, there was another to take it up.
It was a tribal, ritualistic, communal, even primitive atmosphere. Back to the roots. A celebration of life. People stomped, shouted, danced. A cloud of dust lifted and mixed with the smell of sweat. People passed around bread and carrots and more wine. One cat was embracing everyone in sight, telling them how much he loved them. “I love you.” He loved so much that he wasn’t able to make it to the People’s Park and urinated right through the BART ventilator grating. No one paid any special attention. It was People’s Park and, so long as you didn’t do anything injurious to people, you could do your thing, whatever it was.
Some cats took off all their clothes and danced in the nude. The rhythm was everywhere. The people moved rhythmically everywhere. The rhythm moved the people everywhere. Rhythm permeated the crowd.
There was a peculiar American drama being acted out at People’s Park. People worked together to settle this country. Now people were working together to humanize it. The sod brothers and sisters of Telegraph Avenue had their foes just as the sod busters of Oklahoma had theirs – the cattle punchers. We’ve all seen movies about the rivalry between the sod busters and the cow punchers. Now we’re seeing the reality of the sod brothers versus the people punchers. Now we’re seeing punchers – the pigs. It’s back to the land for the sod brothers and sisters, and, as Malcolm X said, “Revolution is based on land.”
Some people say the revolution will never work because it doesn’t take into account human nature, but the Berkeley experience flies in the face of such assertions. 30,000 people were engaged in a common endeavor, and people worked and people had fun together. There was not one fight. Not one baby cried. And that is a good check on the vibrations: a look at the children’ s faces. Human nature asserted itself in Berkeley despite all our parents taught us, despite all we learned in school, despite the competitive system we were brought up in. Human nature went against the grain of society in order to rear its beautiful head. A friend said to me, “Wouldn’t it be beautiful if society was attuned and geared to the life people are living today, if it encouraged life instead of fighting against it?”
There is no time to lose. Let a thousand People’s Parks blossom.
Editor’s Note: Here’s a collage of 16 mm film shot in 1969 in Berkeley, transferred to video by Fred Fisher. It gives a real feel for the times. There is no sound on the video…. Suggested soundtrack: For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield, 1967, Chimes of Freedom – The Byrds (Bob Dylan), 1965, People Got to Be Free – The Young Rascals, 1968