The measure of a society is in how it treats its poor and most vulnerable.

Aidan Hill has lived experience, having been houseless and having their higher education interrupted because of that. They’re Black and trans and work every day on the ground to provide vital support to some of the most vulnerable in Berkeley, including those with disabilities, largely forgotten by a lot of the city government, as evidenced by wildfires last year and two tweets sent on the city of Berkeley account callously telling disabled people to prepare for up to multiple days of blackouts. The tone-deafness of the statement was legendary as people with disabilities often don’t have the means to “prepare.” In spite of extensive information and specifics from people in a disability community in Berkeley, pointing out that the city needs to prepare ahead for such extremes, there was not one word of response from the mayor.

The city needs to provide essential services for all, and there needs to be a warehouse full of supplies such as ventilators, generators, hospital beds, CPAPS, BiPAPS, tubing, air purifiers; you know, basic life support at a place where people with such high-risk needs could be moved for safety and helped by their medical teams. If these supplies had been gathered over time, even over the last year, some of our most vulnerable residents would have had far less stress during this pandemic and the wildfires.

While Aidan works to support the needs of all in Berkeley, they also work to save local trees targeted for removal for no legitimate reason, the lungs of our neighborhoods, and our first defense against climate change, and has organized concerts and mural-painting, bringing together community.

Aidan is smart. I’ve had the opportunity last couple of years to hear them speak to many issues, and give involved presentations drawing connections between events worldwide, spanning decades. Aidan is a person who looks at the whole picture, breaking it down to its components to work on practical solutions to problems.

They make connections between issues, sadly lacking in Berkeley’s government. They recognize that without permanent, decent housing, people’s opportunities in life can be crushed. We’re better than that, though our present mayor’s first council meeting demonstrated his arrogance and coming actions: he allowed continued police raids on houseless people, even in the cold weather when those of us with roofs over our heads get cozy at home with our heaters. And he has chosen not to intervene with UCPD’s continued harassment of poor people, let alone BPD’s ongoing harassment. He’s been a proponent of military weaponization of BPD. He still supports the use of spit hoods, which can cause deaths. New York City does not provide its police officers with spit hoods nor does Chicago.  Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s UK arms program director said spit hoods “can be a cruel and dangerous form of restraint.” Jesse defends their use and said, “The safety of our staff is my top priority,” ignoring that N95’s and face shields would protect from spit.

The crux of the matter is the We vs. Them attitude. Jesse pledges to support staff, but not you or me.

I deeply appreciate one of Aidan’s persistent pursuits, that of getting the city to name People’s Park as one of its go-to sites in case of earthquake or wildfire evacuations. Aidan’s been involved in the city’s CERT training and has discussed the reasons People’s Park needs to be on that list, including that it is in a high-density area with wide-open lawn space, as well as shade under the trees, has running water and a bathroom (though the city of Berkeley has not helped get UC adequately to clean it or supply toilet paper or soap over the years. I believe Jesse could have spoken out about this more forcefully). There is infrastructure;  in addition to Food Not Bombs and the Catholic Worker serving food, people from all over Berkeley come out already with food, water, socks, toiletries, clothes. Why reinvent the wheel?

We don’t need a mayor sitting on his pedestal, pounding his gavel, but need complete change to a person who has a long history of working for social justice and equity for all, not just a chosen few. We would benefit from Aidan’s leadership. They’ve had some of the worst lived experiences, but also the persistence to get back to their UC education. They understand the world from the ground to the Ivory towers.

The present mayor is following, not leading. His tax-funded city Health Department has not bothered to respond to a community group begging for sharps containers because the reality is that, some people resort to IV drug use (while others in homes sometimes drink themselves to death with perfectly legal alcohol). It’s not new in the Bay Area, but while SF Public Health brought Prevention Point’s needle exchange under its wing by 1993 due to data confirming need and efficacy, this mayor has not intervened in his health department’s choice not even to respond to this very basic, easy-to-accommodate public health need.

Jesse has proposed that he get a raise up to about 107 times the income of the many in Berkeley on SSI and food stamps, or working minimum wage jobs, all during a time when local businesses have shut down and people’s savings are gone. We need a mayor who understands reality.

Aidan appreciates and supports local businesses that have been in dire straits. They are creative and work to solve problems, We don’t need anyone’s flashy assertions, and most certainly not another term of the self-congratulatory mayor who steadfastly clings to following the leadership of the police chief who said his alternative to using tear gas, pepper spray, and smoke against protesters would be to shoot us.

Aidan Hill is the mayor committed to the people.

Max Ventura has spent 40 years doing homeless advocacy work “on the ground” in Los Angeles and the Bay Area and is a mother of three and part of the People’s Park Committee and the Coalition to Defend East Bay Forests.
Max Ventura has spent 40 years doing homeless advocacy work “on the ground” in Los Angeles and the Bay Area and is a mother of three and part of the People’s Park Committee and the Coalition to Defend East Bay Forests.