Berkeley / East Bay
Gray Panthers Newsletter
January 2015

6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609

Tel: (510)595-9696

The January membership meeting will be on
Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 1:30pm
at North Berkeley Senior Center.
Speaker/Topic TBD

Board Meeting
January 14, 2015 2:00pm
At Niebyl-Proctor Library

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Election of Officers

Election was held during the membership meeting on October 22. Seven (7) ballots were cast.

New officers are:
Co-convenors -- Edie Hallberg and Leeza Vinogradov
Secretary -- Claire Risley
Treasurer -- Chris Caldwell
Newsletter Publisher -- Steve Geller

Board of Directors

Our current board (people who actually attend board meetings) consists of:

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

October 27 was the last 5-6 pm rally time. The following Monday, November 3, with the end of Daylight Saving Time, we will be rallying from 4-5pm . The obvious reason is to avoid rallying in the dark.

We meet every Monday 4-5 pm at the top of Solano Ave in Berkeley 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 January 16, 2-3 pm. Come sing, wave signs, listen to approving honks. For info, Call 841-4143

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News Notes

In remembrance: Alba Witkin, 1919-2014
She moved to Berkeley in 1978 and was a generous philanthropist who gave to schools, legal programs, and children’s organizations. The Berkeley Gray Panthers will be eternally grateful to Alba Witkin for donating $5000 to them when they were getting started in 1972. Lillian Rabinowitz was the organizer, and Alba supported and donated to the Gray Panthers.

We need your experience!
Experience Corps, an award-winning tutoring and mentoring program, is currently seeking volunteers ages 50 and older to share their life experience to support students in literacy in grades K-3. Volunteers are asked to commit for the rest of the school year for a minimum of 4 hr/wk. The unique experience and talent of older adults is the foundation of Experience Corps, so no prior tutoring experience is necessary, and training is provided.
If you are interested in this fun and rewarding volunteer opportunity, email Alexis Hawkins at or call (415) 759-4223.
Experience Corps website:

Report on the Holiday Party

There was no membership meeting in December 2014. Instead, there was a holiday party, held jointly with the staff of North Berkeley Senior Center, on December 17.

It was a great success. Food was provided by the Senior Center. Panthers Claire and Steve brought some mandarin oranges. The masters of ceremonies were panther co-convenor Edie Hallberg and the senior center's Rodney Wong. The center's Tuesday sing-a-long group led everyone in Christmas carols and other seasonal songs, accompanied by piano.

Elliot Kennan played his banjo and sang songs, including some Hanukkah favorites. He gave the group a quick history of the origin of Hanukkah, the story of the one-day supply of oil for the temple lamps that miraculously lasted 8 days.

To celebrate the possible re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, there was a performance of afro-Cuban percussion and songs. Some people got up and danced.

Beautiful dances: A Chinese group of women, exquisitely dressed, performed a dance.

Then there was more sing-along of seasonal songs.

Different dancers performed a Korean dance, and a bunch of long-braided cowgirls ended with country-western line-dances.

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Report on the November Membership Meeting

The featured speaker for the November 19 Gray Panthers membership meeting was Allison Cook of the “Story of Stuff Project.” She showed a movie also titled “Story of Stuff,” produced by Annie Leonard, who is now director of Greenpeace. The movie was a cartoon sequence, narrated by Annie Leonard.

Here is a summary report by Steve Geller. A more detailed version of this report is online at

The subject of the movie was the stuff we use, including cell phones, computers, televisions, toasters, stoves and washing machines. Where does it all come from? Well, stuff comes via a linear system of four segments: Extraction, Production, Consumption and Disposal.

People have been involved all through the development of this system. Some people matter a little more than others. The government is a relatively minor player. The big players are corporations, which collectively are much bigger than the government. Of the 100 largest economies on Earth now, 51 are corporations.

Extraction is the process of natural resource exploitation, to obtain the raw materials used to make our stuff. Extraction involves trashing the planet by blowing up mountains to get metals, chopping down trees, using up the water, killing animals and poisoning people. We’re running out of natural resources, because we’re making too much stuff. In the past three decades alone, one-third of the Earth’s natural resources have been consumed -- gone.

Production is the process of refining and manufacturing, making the stuff. Production uses 100,000 synthetic chemicals, and emits toxins into the environment. A famous group of toxins is the Brominated Flame Retardants -- BFR, which are used in furniture and pillows to make them less flamable. Chemically, BFRs are neurotoxins, chemicals which can affect brains, possibly affecting behaviour, memory and learning. People can absorb a BFR as they sleep, from their pillow. BFRs are also used in computers and other electronic equipment. BFRs do not degrade quickly and can become concentrated as they progress up the food chain.

A food with one of the highest levels of toxic contaminants is human breast milk. The factories which use toxic chemicals are disproportionately staffed by women of reproductive age. Factory workers in general, especially in third-world countries, are being driven off polluted land, where their ancestors had lived for generations, to come into cities, where these people have no other option than to work in a toxic factory.

Consumption is the process of distributing the produced stuff, selling it to consumers. To keep people buying, prices must be kept low. This is achieved by externalizing the costs. The real costs of a cheap radio, for example, are not covered by the retail price – it wouldn’t cover the shelf space, let alone the salary of the sales person. And it doesn’t pay for the shipping of the materials in from all over the world. So who pays the rest of the costs? Well, it's indigenous people, who lose their access to a sustaining environment and natural resource base. It's people working in and living around factories who lose their clean air and are forced to deal with increased rates of asthma and cancer. It's people whose lives are disrupted -- about 30% of children in parts of the Congo pay with the loss of their future; they skip school in order to mine Coltan, a material used to make cheap disposable electronic components. And it's retail workers, who are paid low wages by the big box stores.

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Disposal is the last process in the linear system. It's when stuff gets thrown away. Each of us disposes of about 4.5 pounds of garbage each day. It is burnt in an incinerator, or goes into landfills directly. Incinerators release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, especially Dioxins, which are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. .

In North America, by 6 months after stuff is sold, 99% of it is no longer in use; it’s trashed. Things were not always like this. In grandma’s day, thrift and re-use were virtues; we didn’t throw away as much stuff. People today consume twice what was consumed 50 years ago. This did not just happen. The present system was deliberately designed. After WWII, corporations wanted to ramp-up the civilian economy by emphasizing consumption. The government backed this plan. How did the government and the corporations get us to jump on this program so enthusiastically? It was done by promoting planned obsolescence. Stuff is deliberately made to last only a short time before it breaks and must be replaced. Stuff is designed for the dump. Computers and cell phones are prime examples.

Perceived obsolescence uses fashion to keep things going. The appearance of new products is ensured to be different from the old version, which makes people think they have to dispose of the old stuff and buy the new stuff. Car model years are a well-known example.

What Can We Do? The story of stuff is about bumping into limits, from changing climate to declining human happiness. The system is just not working; it is in crisis.

Fortunately, we know the points of intervention: extraction can be modified to save forests and reduce environmental destruction; production can be made clean and green; distribution and consumption can be based on fair trade and labor practices.

We can be conscious consumers. We can block landfills and limit the use of incinerators. We can take back our government from control by corporations.

Our present system isn’t like gravity, something we just have to live with. People created the system; people can change the system. We need to change the game rules. When people along the system get united, we can reclaim and transform our present linear system into a new system that doesn’t waste resources or people. The new system will be based on green chemistry, zero waste, closed-loop production, renewable energy and local-living economies. Our goal should not be MORE. We should strive for a goal of BETTER.

After the movie, there was a question and answer period. We were told that “The Story of Stuff” movie can be played online at their website -- here is the URL:

Someone asked where the Story of Stuff Project gets its funding. We were told that much of it comes from small donations, $5 - $1000. They also get grants from family foundations.

There was an exchange within the audience of information on where old electronic equipment can be recycled in Berkeley. One place was quite close: the Green Citizen store on Shattuck Ave, near University, opposite the Missing Link Bike Shop. Computers especially can be recycled at the yard on 620 Page St near Gilman. Computers and monitors are recycled free. They charge a small fee (about $3) to recycle non-computer stuff, such as phone answering machines, printers.