The iconic image of Wayne Hsiung — the one familiar to almost everyone who knows him — is of Wayne standing before a crowd, in a shirt and tie, earpiece on, bullhorn in hand.
That’s the Wayne I reported on as a journalist and documentary filmmaker for The Intercept three years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Wayne much better. We’ve become friends, and I was among those who encouraged him to run for mayor of Berkeley back in what feels like a different era, before the pandemic.
I grew up in Berkeley. I was born at Alta Bates Hospital, went to Berkeley High, and later attended graduate school at Cal. My parents still live in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood home they moved into before I was born. Like many people raised in the East Bay, I’ve had a passion for politics all my life. But I’ll admit that that interest never extended to the city level. Not until now.
That’s because the local politics of Berkeley never seemed to live up to the city’s ideals. Leaders would pay lip service to the values of the 60s, to world peace, to the aspiration of economic equality, to solidarity with the poor and oppressed. But day-to-day governing catered to the same parochial interests as any other suburb: protecting home values, developing commercial corridors, beautification and mitigation of blight.
Those are all, of course, important concerns of residents and public officials — as a homeowner myself, I care about them, too. But in a time of multiple, mounting crises, and looking forward to a future in which those crises are likely to become even more acute, this narrow view of city politics is wholly inadequate both to the age we live in and to the transformative spirit that Berkeley embodies.
What this moment calls for is a mayor who is used to wielding a bullhorn. As I was reporting on Wayne’s activism, I got a close look at his leadership style. Years ago, I worked as a labor organizer for a Bay Area healthcare workers’ union, so I know a little bit about what it takes to bring people together around a cause. Wayne is among the most talented organizers I’ve ever met. He has an uncanny ability to build community, to develop in people the confidence to engage in actions they never imagined themselves capable of.
Besieged, as we are, by a deadly virus, encircled by fires, our democracy teetering, it’s clear that our prospects for the future depend upon mobilizing every resource our city has within reach — every scientist, every activist, every artist, every mom, every dad. Wayne’s vision is for a Green New City, a Berkeley that has transformed itself to meet the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. That will require imaginative policies, robust investments, and political tenacity. But above all it will require an organized, activated, and committed Berkeley community.
Wayne is an activist. He has an extraordinary technical mind, but he’s not a technocrat. He understands how to operate within the practical realm of what’s possible, but he’s not a bureaucrat. He has long, deep, and meaningful experience in politics, but he’s not a politician. He’s a moral visionary, he’s a disrupter, and he’s a leader. He is what Berkeley needs, and he is what this historical moment demands.