Mayor Tom Bates speaks on history of Berkeley activism at campus forum

Benjamin Shenouda/Staff

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Mayor Tom Bates gave an address Tuesday night on Berkeley’s historical and current role in political activism as part of the Berkeley Forum, a student organization that brings speakers to campus.

Bates spoke about his own experiences and Berkeley’s history before the event opened up for questions from a moderator and the audience. While Bates emphasized past political movements and his time in office, students’ comments focused on current issues in the city.

According to Bates, the city is a center for action because of its highly educated population, and he discussed the power of small groups of people who identified injustices.

“Berkeley has a culture that’s interested in things,” he said at the forum. “We’re interested in local news, national news and international communities.”

As a student at UC Berkeley, Bates played football, joined a fraternity and was part of a conservative group. He joined the army when he graduated and then went into real estate, which was when he switched sides of the political spectrum.

He became a Democrat following the Rumford Act of 1963, which was intended to prevent racial discrimination in housing. He said his colleagues in the real estate field supported a bill to counteract the act, making him feel that he was in the wrong profession.

Bates also talked extensively about Ron Dellums, who served on the Berkeley City Council before being elected to the House of Representatives. Dellums held a strong stance against the war in Vietnam.

“(Berkeley) is the place for change, this is the place for activism, this is the place to examine ideas to try to make them better,” he said at the forum.

The moderator, Carter Keeling, inquired about the extent to which the city has engaged with the Black Lives Matter movement. Bates said the possibly inappropriate use of tear gas at a protest Dec. 6 is currently under investigation. He added that Berkeley’s police are some of the best in the nation.

A member from the audience asked Bates why he left the room during a City Council meeting when community members were airing concerns; Bates said he had no ulterior motive but rather had to use the bathroom.

Bates said he participated in the Berkeley Forum because, as mayor, he feels it is his duty to be accessible to the public. He also expressed his interest in Berkeley’s political activism, although he was not sure that the audience shared his passion for the city’s history.

“(The Berkeley Forum was) founded to serve as a platform for free discussion of high profile speakers,” said Matthew Freeman, Berkeley Forum vice president of programming. He added that the organization focuses on satisfying “general intellectual interest.”

Frances Fitzgerald covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.