AN OPEN LETTER TO THE STREET PEOPLE IN PEOPLE’S PARK

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As many of you know, the University has plans to destroy People’s Park in 2020, and replace it with student housing. I have always been a fierce critic of the University in this regard. But for a moment I’d like to address the other side of the coin: The street people of People’s Park.

The main reason that People’s Park has been able to survive all these years is because of the strong support it’s always enjoyed from the majority of Berkeley residents. But there’s every reason to believe that support has been waning in recent years. Whenever the subject of People’s Park comes up these days, invariably someone will chime in: “Pave that damn Park. It’s nothing but a cesspool of drugs, crime and bums!!”

Whether or not that sentiment is true — and it’s obviously an exaggerated caricature — that is the public perception in many quarters. And we urgently need to change that perception if People’s Park is to survive.

In fact, many Berkeley residents feel unwelcome and unsafe in People’s Park. You street people that consider People’s Park your “home”? That’s fine. But you better start welcoming the rest of the Berkeley community into “your” home if you want it to survive much longer. Because it’s just as much “their” home, too.FB_IMG_1534386558313.jpg

 

I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about: For many years the Telegraph Avenue street vendors met in People’s Park every morning to sign up for their vending spaces and take care of business. Recently they moved out of People’s Park and now set up every morning on the corner of Telegraph & Channing. Why?? After one too many ugly scenes with one too many ugly People’s Park street people, they decided: “Fuck this place!” And moved out of the park.

 

This is exactly what I’m talking about. Many people who once supported the park no longer support the park. And we desperately need to start winning these people back to our side if People’s Park is going to survive.

I’m not trying to bust anybody’s chops here. And as a long-time homeless person myself, I’m the last person to be posting anti-homeless screeds. But this is the reality we face as People’s Park now teeters on the verge of destruction. If People’s Park is going to survive, we all need to up our games. Are we going to be remembered as the generation of Berkeley street people that LOST Peoples Park. I hope not.

Sincerely, Ace Backwords

Private Pepper

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Liz Spring sent me this photo today from 1994. As always I do the math in my mind — 24 years ago for those of you keeping score at home. Sitting at Bench Two on the Berkeley campus.

As soon as I saw my face I thought: “I was taking way too many drugs back then.” Pot, acid, crack, speed. My brain was going in multiple directions. I’m glad I cleaned up my act nowadays and am just a straight up alcoholic. It’s much more linear on my thinking.

I had this hare-brained idea at the time of “making it” as a musician. I had had some success as a cartoonist, writer, graphic artist and photographer, so I thought maybe my artistic talents might also transfer to the medium of music. What I mostly wanted to do was write and record songs. Which I loved doing. My dream was to record a classic psychedelic album. Call it Private Pepper. A pun. Because music had mostly been this private thing with me that I mostly kept to myself.

I ended up recording a demo of about 10 of my songs on 8-track reel-to-reel tape with some over-dubbing and psychedelic special effects. Had sort of a moody, melancholy, early Pink Floyd sound. I have no idea if it was any good. How can you be objective about something like that? But I can tell you it sounded fantastic to me when I listened to it on headphones played on recording studio-quality equipment while peaking on acid. So it passed my personal acid test.

I still have the original reel-to-reel master tape stashed somewhere in my storage locker. Maybe some day I’ll dig it up, take it to a real recording studio and finish it. Over-dub some drums and bass and moog synthesizer and tweak out the effects for the proper mind-bending properties. And then press it up on vinyl. Because that’s what I always wanted. My own record. Just to be perverse.