Berkeley / East Bay
Gray Panthers Newsletter
April 2015

6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609

Tel: (510)595-9696

The April membership meeting will be on
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 1:30pm
at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, Berkeley.
Mary Nicely from Tony Thurmond's office will speak about
Green and Blue California
what is being done in Sacramento and what can we do locally.
All Welcome. Wheelchair accessible.

Board Meeting: April 8, 2015 2:00pm At Niebyl-Proctor Library

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Become a member of Gray Panthers!

Dues: $35/year ($15 low income)
Send a check with your name and mailing address to Gray Panthers of the East Bay, 6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609.
NOTE -- Traffic Tickets can also be worked off by volunteer work for Gray Panthers

Living Graveyard

Third Mondays, Noon - 1:00 pm.
date subject to change –– check
Oakland Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street (two blocks from 12th Street BART)
People lie down on the city sidewalk in front of the Federal Building, covered with sheets to represent the dead. The names of some of the Californians who have died in Iraq and the names of some of the Iraqi dead are read during the event. A gong is sounded after each name.
Please bring a white sheet. A pad to lie on is recommended.
Info: Ecumenical Peace Institute, (510)990-0374.

Tax the Rich Rally

TAX THE RICH RALLY meets every Monday 5-6 pm at the top of Solano Ave in Berkeley (rain cancels) to protest the inequality of taxes in our country. We hold signs saying “Tax the Rich” and “Tax the Big Corporations.” Cars passing by honk in support. Pedestrians take leaflets. The signs and leaflets present information about the impact of tax inequities in our society, and how we must work together to bring about essential changes so that the rich and big corporations pay their fair share.

Monthly Peace Rally

Every 3rd Friday, Gray Panthers and Strawberry Creek Lodge sponsor a Peace rally, at Acton and University in Berkeley. Next rally will be on Friday April 17, 2-3 pm. Come sing, wave signs, listen to approving honks. For info, Call Fran Rachel at 841-4143

Report on March Membership meeting

The speaker for the March 25, 2015 Gray Panther membership meeting was Jim Chanin, a Berkeley-based civil rights lawyer who has been involved with local cases of discrimination and police misconduct. His topic was the First Amendment to the Constitution and how it relates to women’s rights. About 25 people were in the audience.

Chanin had just returned from Selma, Alabama, where he had participated in the memorial walk on the Edmund Pettus Bridge which evoked the memory of TV images from “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when peaceful protestors were beaten by police officers in an event that shocked the nation and led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was there as part of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. The total crowd was about 40,000. There were speeches by numerous politicians including President Obama and Representative John Lewis, who had been injured during the original march.

A summary report on Chanin's talk continues on the next page.

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Report on the March Membership Meeting (continued)

Chanin said he was glad he went. He stayed in the area for three days. He spent the first day in Montgomery, where he toured the Southern Poverty Law Center, with its inscribed with the names of individuals who lost their lives during the struggle for freedom from 1954 to 1968.

He also visited the Rosa Parks Memorial, which is a replica of the famous bus on which she kept her seat. The Greyhound terminal there is a Freedom Riders museum. Selma is not very prosperous today. Chanin said that when blacks got the right to vote, many prosperous whites moved away from Selma. A local Air Force base has been closed. There were few hotels in Selma, so he stayed in a hotel in Mongomery, 50 miles away.

The Selma march was about voting rights. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, was supposed to prohibit states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” But in many former slave states, there were various discriminatory practices used to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) authorized the enrollment of voters by federal registrars in states where fewer than fifty percent of the eligible voters were registered or voted. In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among blacks increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969. Section 4(a) of the VRA established a formula to identify those areas and to provide for more stringent remedies where appropriate. The first of these targeted remedies was a five-year suspension of requirements for "a test or device," such as a literacy test, as a prerequisite to register to vote. Section 5 of the VRA requires certain districts, mainly in the South, to pre-clear any change in local laws affecting voting. Approval for the changes must be secured from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C. The intent was to ensure that a law change does not discriminate against protected minorities. In June 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled the VRA “no longer relevant.” The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965. The court said “Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past."

Chanin reminded us that vote suppression remains alive and well today. Now the scheme is to avoid “voter fraud” by carefully checking voter registration. For example, if Chanin had registered as “James B. Chanin” but his ID showed “James Chanin” he would not be allowed to vote. In Georgia, 20,000 people were not allowed to vote on an election day. He said that voter suppression these days is not blatantly based on race, but more on whether the voter is likely to vote Republican. In some places, district gerrymandering forces a voter to choose between an African American and a Tea Party candidate.

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Women's Rights

Women’s rights is an appropriate topic because March is Women's History Month. Historically, women have been in a struggle for their rights.

Women got the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th amendment passed The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was proposed to guarantee equal rights for women. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. In 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. The ERA was introduced into every session of Congress between 1923 and 1972, when it was passed and sent to the states for ratification. The seven-year time limit in the ERA's proposing clause was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, but at the deadline, the ERA had been ratified by only 35 states, leaving it three states short of the 38 required for ratification. The ERA has been reintroduced into every Congress since that time.

If the ERA had passed, the Constitution would have guaranteed women all their rights, not the piecemeal rights they get today.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination based on race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion. It prohibits most workplace harassment and discrimination, covers all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions with fifteen or more employees. In California, the local employment anti-discrimination law is for companies of five or more employees. In addition to prohibiting discrimination against workers because of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex, protections have been extended to include barring discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, sex stereotyping, and sexual harassment of employees. Enforcement of title VII is by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There are some restrictions. You can’t claim discrimination because the boss yells at everyone, but can if the boss yells only at women. As with ADA requirements, discrimination is allowed only if it is based on job-related business necessity. Women in Fire or Police departments are subjected to physical agility tests. Airlines have required female cabin attendants to be tall enough to open the emergency door. Any challenged law must show that it furthers an important government interest by means that are substantially related to that interest. Under federal law, an employee can only sue the harassing person; supervisors are strictly liable. Under state law, anyone can be sued to get remedial action.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education, if the institution receives federal funds. Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. It addresses discrimination against pregnant and parenting students and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs. It also addresses sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, and sexual violence. Title IX does not apply to female students only. Title IX protects any person from sex-based discrimination, regardless of their real or perceived sex, gender identity, and/or gender expression. Female, male, and gender non-conforming students, faculty, and staff are protected from any sex-based discrimination, harassment or violence. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to abolish wage disparity based on sex. It was signed into law on June 10, 1963, by John F. Kennedy as part of his New Frontier Program.

The act supports equal pay for women doing the same job as men. In the 1970s, 60% of women were paid the same as men doing the same job; today it’s 80%. But if a woman doesn’t get the job in the first place, the equal pay law doesn’t help. Chanin called this situation “too nebulous.”

The First Amendment and Free Speech

The First Amendment says: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It has been broadly applied. Chanin mentioned several cases. In 1984, teachers in Richmond were required to sign a loyalty oath (Schmid v. Lovette). In 1989 a state Court of Appeal struck down a City of Alameda law banning news rack sales of sexually explicit newspapers from residential neighborhoods. The law was aimed at “The Spectator”, a magazine sold in news rack vending machines. The ordinance had sought to limit their location in the same way other communities have restricted adult theaters and bookstores offering material that is explicit but not legally obscene. The problem is that news racks are hardly the same as adult bookstores and theaters. It was noted that the city's assertion that "now that the bookstores are gone, what better place [for prostitutes and pimps] to meet the Johns?" -- sounds more like an idea for a Gary Larson cartoon than a plausible constitutional argument. Chanin passed around a copy of a Gary Larson cartoon lampooning the news rack sales of The Spectator. There was a similar case in Redding which concluded that banning such adult entertainment is regulating free speech, not conduct.

Chanin asked the audience to help him recall what happened at one of our Gray Panther meetings when an official of the North Berkeley Senior Center tried to stop Councilmember Jesse Arreguin from giving a “partisan” speech supporting Measure R. (There was an article about this in the Contra Costa Times.) Chanin said that using government property for partisan speech does not require a “balanced” presentation, unless the other side is forbidden to present its views. People have a right to hear what they want to hear. For example, a Jewish prayer group has the right to exclude an intrusive speech by a Christian evangelist. But points of view can't be suppressed in public. Two gay and lesbian groups finally marched in Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade, after decades of opposition that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chanin reminded us that Berkeley has not always been a liberal place. The city did not vote for FDR in 1932. In the past, Berkeley maintained racially restrictive home deed covenants. In the 1970s, Berkeley was about 20% black; in 2015, it was more like 8%. Berkeley has not always been on the right side of free speech. Chanin mentioned the evicting of Occupy encampments, and the tear gassing of the Black Lives demonstrators.

Questions and Answers

Churches don’t pay property taxes. Is this establishment of religion? Chanin said it might be possible to tax churches; he didn't know. It might be forbidden to tax them under the free exercise clause. Is there freedom of speech for Muslims? Maybe not if the speech promotes terrorism. Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to employ Jews? Chanin thought they might not be allowed to discriminate if they get federal funding. If they didn't get federal funding, they could hire all Catholics. He was not positive about this.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a “hot line” if you have an issue. (415) 621-2493
The ACLU Website is

An expanded version of this report is available at