Mayor Jesse Arreguín speaks on progressivism and free speech at Free Speech Movement Café

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Mayor Jesse Arreguín held a forum on “Progressive Mayorship” at the Free Speech Movement Café on Monday night, covering topics including freedom of speech, violent protests and the role of Berkeley as a progressive city under the Trump administration.

Arreguín began the event by first affirming his commitment to freedom of speech in light of the violent rallies in the city Saturday, one of several violent outbursts in Berkeley this year. He said he was committed to respecting the right of everyone to peacefully express their opinions, whatever they are, yet he stressed the importance of public safety.

“Public safety is our top priority,” Arreguín said. “And that actually, I believe, takes precedence over freedom of speech.”

Arreguín reflected on the beginnings of his mayorship, and moved through important moments of his political career. Arreguín was voted the first Latino mayor in Berkeley history on Nov. 8, 2016, while Donald Trump won the presidential race on the national stage.

“While Berkeley moved to the left, our country moved to the right,” Arreguín said. “I was shocked, honestly, and incredibly saddened that Trump could win the election. I think this is something that many of us did not expect to happen.”

Arreguín noted the history of Berkeley as a progressive force, as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and center of the anti-war movement in the 1960s. So far, Arreguín has taken action against the Trump administration by reaffirming Berkeley’s status as a sanctuary city and directing city staff to divest from companies involved in the construction of a Mexico border wall.

Arreguín answered questions for the majority of the event, with topics ranging from affordable and student housing, to the homelessness crisis, green energy and freedom of speech.

“I am hopeful. I know that we are capable of forming strong, unbreakable coalitions and of leading the way,” Arreguín said. “So let’s rise together, let’s make it clear that we will not go silent into the night, but rather shine and be a beacon of hope during these difficult times.”

The event was sponsored and introduced by the Free Speech Movement Café Educational Programs Committee and the Progressive Students Association. Helen Jentzen, a member of the Free Speech Movement Educational programs Committee, said the crowd of roughly 50 people was the largest she’d seen at a FSM event.

Jentzen said Arreguín seemed extremely thoughtful, while Doreen Ludemann, an East Bay resident, praised the way Arreguín grappled with the free speech versus public safety issue.

“We saw that Mayor Arreguín is willing to speak out against the Trump administration,” said Daniel Fields, a board member of the Progressive Student Association. “He is really proving to be the progressive leader he campaigned as.”

Edward Booth covers city government. Contact Edward Booth at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.