Exhibit honoring Berkeley’s sanctuary city status opens at Veterans Memorial Building

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A new exhibit, “Building Bridges, Not Walls: Berkeley, America’s First Sanctuary City,” opened Sunday morning at the Veterans Memorial Building in Berkeley.

The exhibit, which was curated last year by Berkeley Historical Society member Harvey Smith, is said to “explore Berkeley’s humanitarian spirit and internationalism,” according to the society’s website. Prior to its opening, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín also unveiled a plaque commemorating the lives of Berkeley citizens who died in World War I — which ended exactly 100 years before Sunday’s opening, on Nov. 11, 1918.

“The Great War has a transformative effect on not only this country, in the world,” Arreguín said at the event. “It’s important we commemorate those who died.”

After Arreguín unveiled the plaque and addressed the roughly 50-person audience, Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio spoke. She said the event was “auspicious” as it commemorated lives lost in war and was to be followed by the kickoff of the United Against Hate Week.

Maio also spoke about Berkeley’s history as a sanctuary city and the task force implemented by Arreguín to ensure the city remains a place of sanctuary despite the Trump administration’s threats.

She also spoke about the federal government’s negligence toward homeless veterans and the need for Berkeley to continue supporting them.

Attendees then heard from representatives from Code Pink and the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, who discussed a 2011 City Council resolution that failed to pass but would have called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and invited one of the detainees into the Berkeley community.

Smith then spoke about his intentions for the exhibit, which include encouraging activism and educating people about Berkeley’s history.

The project was also intended to celebrate the San Francisco immigrant community and the role it has played in the Bay Area’s history, including in the building of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges.

“As the first sanctuary city in the U.S., Berkeley has become a beacon for other cities to take action,” Smith said, before thanking the many local poets, artists and photographers who helped create the exhibit, many of whom were in the audience.

After he spoke, audience members enjoyed the refreshments provided and chatted with one another. They also had the opportunity to view the exhibit and attend the kickoff of the United Against Hate Week, which was held that afternoon at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

They were also encouraged to revisit the exhibit and bring their families and friends, as it will be open for the next five months.

“This is very important to memorialize 100 years,” said UC Berkeley alumna Anna Marie Taylor, who attended the event. “I think this is wonderful that we have the Berkeley Historical Society to keep doing research and presentations on the history of Berkeley.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.