A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


Amidst this year’s bombardment of campaign ads and nonstop election news, it’s easy to forget that the ballot box is only one of many ways that people participate in politics and drive systemic change. Although often ignored by history books, which tend to focus on politicians, “bottom up” movements led by students, workers, and other “regular people” have been a major force in shaping the Bay Area. From criminal justice reform to LGBTQ equality, the changes happening now at the policy level emerged from years of organizing, and are built upon mountains of frustrating setbacks. At a time when the federal government is characterized by gridlock and dysfunction, looking back at the strength of local activism through the decades is a healthy reminder that much can be accomplished between elections, far from the halls of power.   

If you’ve been staring into the soul-sucking abyss of cable news or doomscrolling through the implosion of American democracy, delving into the stories of anti-eviction battles, Ohlone resistance, strikes, and resilient celebration featured in “A People’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area” (UC Press) will provide a welcome glimmer of hope. Not naive optimism, but the kind of tempered determination that comes when you remember how bad things have been before – and how people successfully fought to keep them from getting worse. This might be hard to believe right now, but some things even got better. (Case in point: Many of the Bay Area’s most beautiful parks are located on the sites of former military installations.) 

Although formatted similarly to popular travel books, “A People’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area” does not include the region’s most obvious tourist destinations. Instead, it explores the landscape from a historical perspective, highlighting significant places associated with social conflict, ecological restoration, and radical activism. For those wishing to combine their education with a bit of exercise, it even includes a series of thematic tours organized by themes such as “Youth in Revolt” and “The Intertribal Bay.”

“We aim to make disappearing and long-gone landscapes more visible in the social memory, and to combat the erasure of visual clues to the past.” -from the introduction.

This episode features interviews with co-author Rachel Brahinsky, an associate professor at the University of San Francisco, and Diana Negrín da Silva, who contributed many of the book’s East Bay entries and also teaches in the geography department of UC Berkeley. Listen now to hear us discuss Oakland’s long history of dancing during protests, the origins of Contra Costa County’s “fossil fuel corridor” and much more: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.

Now a geography professor, Berkeley native Diana Negrín da Silva (left) first studied the history of California’s criminal justice system through her experiences as a high school activist during the 1990s. She is one of the many writers who contributed short essays to “A People’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area.”
“Even though the memorial means that the Ohlone’s long presence is recognized here, the memorial suggests that their experience is largely historical – perhaps an ancient story that cannot be retraced. This erases the contemporary Ohlone presence and their request to respect ancestors buried there.” -from the entry on the Emeryville Shellmound in “A People’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area”
Frances Albrier challenged the status quo by becoming the first African American to run for Berkeley City Council in 1939. Although she lost that race, she was later successful in several of her campaigns against employment discrimination. Now a community center in San Pablo Park bears her name. [Photo: Smithsonian Institute]
Demonstrators in front of Kahn’s department store in 1946, when a struggle for the rights of largely female retail clerks sparked the Oakland general strike. [Photographer unknown; Courtesy of Labor Archives and Research Center, J. Paul Leonard Library, San Francisco State University]
In 1924, more than 8000 Ku Klux Klan members gathered in the Oakland Auditorium (now called the Kaiser Convention Center). The fact that the Black Panther Party hosted a conference here less than 50 years later shows how drastically the East Bay’s political landscape shifted throughout the 20th century. [Photo courtesy of Gary Mills]

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