Community peace event held in light of planned ‘alt-right’ rally

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Vivian Roan/Staff

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A community event, organized as a response to the planned “alt-right” rally Sunday, was held Saturday in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where leaders from several religious spaces spoke, sang and prayed with the crowd.

The event, which was described by organizers as a “peaceful prayer,” was intended both to set a positive energy in the area where the “alt-right” rally was planned to be held and to provide a nonconfrontational alternative for those who may not want to attend counterprotests Sunday. Although the “alt-right” rally was canceled Friday, city officials are still preparing for people to congregate at Civic Center Park.

Cat Zavis, executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and one of the event’s coordinators, said Saturday’s event was a “family-friendly” alternative for those who, for any reason, did not want to attend the protests Sunday.

“The goal is on one hand to provide a place for people who want to stand up and say no to Nazism and white supremacy and fascism … but (don’t) want to necessarily put themselves in harm’s way,” Zavis said before the event. “Another is to bring people together from different faiths to be in community together and singing and dancing and engaging in each other in a peaceful, loving action.”

Some people at the event said they chose to attend because they didn’t want to risk attending the Sunday protests. Rani Cochran, a Berkeley resident, said she attended the event both because she believes it is important to stand for what one believes in and because she has “a bum knee.”

“I definitely believe in the joy of diversity and the fact that we all want the same thing, even though we manifest it differently,” Cochran said. “I came to this event first because I know Rabbi (Michael) Lerner and his work … but mainly I came because I knew this event would be peaceful.”

Lerner, another organizer for the event, editor-in-chief of the Tikkun magazine and rabbi at the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue, was the first of many speakers at the event. His speech urged liberal spokespeople to shift their rhetoric into one that promotes change in the society rather than to just resist the “growth of extremism.”

A number of religious leaders spoke at the event, including the Rev. Ann Jefferson, the Rev. Dr. Alfred Smith Jr. and the Rev. Daniel Buford.

Some city staff members were also at the event, including Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmember Cheryl Davila. Davila said she was at the farmers market, as per her routine, but noticed the event and stayed to listen until the end.

Arreguín said he felt it was important that he show that the city supports peaceful resistance. He has previously encouraged people to avoid the park Sunday, in the hopes of preventing violence, and he reiterated his sentiments at the event Saturday. He added, however, that he does support the peaceful events that will also be happening Sunday.

“I’m here because I want to stand in solidarity with faith leaders of all backgrounds and to show (that) the city of Berkeley stands shoulder to shoulder with community members,” Arreguín said. “We’re in Martin Luther King Jr. Park — he believed in peaceful resistance, and so do we.”

Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.