Community members gather in early morning to celebrate, reaffirm shared values

Audrey McNamara/Senior Staff

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Just after sunrise Friday morning, about 100 community members gathered in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park to celebrate and reaffirm what organizers described as the city’s shared values of equality, inclusivity and compassion in response to Donald Trump’s election last week.

Many civic leaders, including City Council members, school board directors and Rent Stabilization Board members attended the event, which was organized by the office of mayor-elect and District 4 City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. Upbeat reggae pumped from a PA system as attendees chatted and drank orange juice at the rally’s 7 a.m. start.

“A lot of people are hurting and scared of what a Trump presidency represents to them,” said former mayoral candidate and campus graduate student Ben Gould. “Berkeley stands together as a community. We won’t give up our values of inclusion, diversity and access to opportunity, and reaffirming those values is really important.”

During his address to the crowd, Arreguin reiterated his commitment to Berkeley’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, despite Trump’s calls to cut funding from cities refusing to comply with federal immigration authorities.

“We’ve seen a lot of people out in the streets protesting and feel there needs to be a positive message associated with the elections,” Arreguin said. “Now more than ever, Berkeley needs to lead the way.”

After listening to Arreguin speak, ralliers assembled to form a peace sign as wide as the park. Holding hands, they chanted about unity and resilience.

“I feel energized,” said Juli Dickey, a Berkeley resident who attended the gathering. “I just feel like this is the time to be who you are in the world and bring people along to peace and harmony.”

A few attendees held signs protesting the city’s recent forcible disbandment of local homeless encampments.

Carol Wolfley, holding a sign reading “stop police raids on our homeless neighbors,” said she saw irony in the peaceful gathering considering that several encampments had recently been cleared by police.

“As we start this new era in Berkeley, we need to look at new creative ways to deal with the problems and the challenges,” Wolfley said. “More and more people are homeless.”

After a drone flew over the crowd to photograph the peace sign, Jhos Singer, a maggid at a South Berkeley synagogue, addressed the crowd.

Stressing a need for understanding others’ perspectives, Singer cited Jewish theology that values differing perspectives.

“Polar opposites actually have the capacity of bringing forth peace,” Singer said. “We need to find our polar opposites to sit down … to find out what we don’t yet know, because obviously there’s so much more to learn.”

The rally ended with Gary Lapow, a local musician, performing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as the crowd sang along. Attendees embraced, smiled and returned to their daily lives. The park had largely cleared by 8:15 a.m.

Contact Simon Greenhill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @simondgreenhill.