Today, we woke up to the cool San Francisco air. The first thing we did was meet with a 64 year old man named Leon Veal. He talked to us about his struggle with illiteracy in his life. My first reaction was one of shock, because as a privileged American student, it is hard to imagine a world void of the ability to read and write. But, nowadays, with mass education systems, it is becoming more common to leave students behind. Being illiterate, Veal lived with emotions such as confusion, shame, and frustration. Then, at age 44, his life turned around when he found a tutor and learned literacy skills. He told us that his motivation lied behind the natural instinct of helping oneself and not always having to rely on others for both physical and economic needs. Leon is now a part of Project Read, a program aimed at providing the necessary education for adults who have not already received it. I was especially astounded to hear that in California alone, 1 in 5 adults are illiterate. However, programs like this one truly inspire one to address this lingering issue with technological approaches and innovative minds. Within twenty years, Leon Veal was able to turn his life around by learning something as simple as reading and writing, proving the importance and relevance of education.
Our next meeting was with Judy Lloyd, an advocate for small business, who promoted the idea that raising the minimum wage is not the answer to current economic problems. Simply put, she argued that raising the minimum wage leaves less money to the employer to provide jobs, causing higher paying jobs but less people working. Her reasoning was that the minimum wage is only an entry level wage, and from there, people have the ability to move on to higher paying jobs or start their own businesses. For me, it seems there has to be a compromise. Then the question stands: What is that compromise? Raising minimum wage for large companies and keeping it the same for small businesses? Increasing tax cuts for small businesses? Where the solution does lie, it lies amidst the adjustment and accommodation of businesses and government alike.
After these enlightening meetings, we stopped for lunch and then had free time at Union Square in downtown San Francisco.
Soon enough, the California breeze brought us to Berkeley, via the BART subway. There, we discussed the power of the people. We learned about the students of UC Berkeley who were the first to demand free speech on the college campus, organizing in the 1960’s for this cause, as well as topics such as the Vietnam War, the draft, and the Israel-Palestine conflict. We read a Patti Smith song “The People have the Power” together on the steps of Sproul Hall, which cemented to us the ideas of what this energy was all about. A well-known act of the People Power movement was the dispute over People’s Park. In the 1960s, this park, an abandoned lot, was beautified by students and locals who turned it into a park for themselves to enjoy. When the government bodies of the town and school decided to reclaim the land for themselves, the people resisted. When the park was annexed overnight with a large fence, protests and riots occurred, leaving one dead but resulting in a victory for the people, who were expressing their power as a collective. To be there, to see it, along with a mural about the movement was impactful, as the park is still around today.
Afterwards, we got to experience some of the hippie city with some free time on Telegraph Ave. The culture on the main street of Berkeley was filled with music, art, culture, and yummy food! I ate at a grilled cheese restaurant called The Melt, and I LOVED it!
To top off the evening, we arrived at Beit Tikkun, where we had Shabbat services led by Rabbi Michael Lerner. His method of congregation was refreshing in that it was focused more on the individual’s spiritual identity rather than on the congregation’s identity. He also introduced a way to perceive God by translating “yud hey vav hey” to mean the present to the future, or, more poetically, what is to what can be. Rabbi Lerner also encouraged us to not believe in a God we do not believe in, but instead to connect to the transformative power that is within us. When discussing the Israeli-Palestinian War, Rabbi Lerner pointed out that it is not just an issue of politics but also of human beings. Once again, the question of compromise rises, as well as when can we see that killing keeps us farther and farther away from the roots of human desire: love and compassion? It truly was a lovely, spiritual, and thought-provoking night.
Via the subway, we were carried back to our hotel by the Western winds with our eyes and heart opened that much wider.