‘60s still alive on a corner in Echo Park

The Series
Times columnist Steve Lopez reports from Skid Row.

A spirited Art Goldberg was up in his shabby Echo Park office Monday afternoon, above the Vietnamese bakery with the moon cakes he loves, counting votes for the antiwar resolution he’s been touting since August.

“I think we’ve got 10,” said the lanky, lifelong rabble-rouser, who predicted the Los Angeles City Council would do the right thing Tuesday.

A grainy 43-year-old photo of Goldberg, standing on top of a police car on the UC Berkeley campus, hangs proudly on a wall of the Working Peoples Law Center, where Goldberg and his tiny staff take up the legal causes of people who don’t have Phil Spector money to throw around.

“The free speech movement literally started in my house,” says Goldberg, who hasn’t ever been muzzled in the years that have followed. Every Friday evening, the brother of longtime teacher and pol Jackie Goldberg is at Sunset and Echo Park, happy to get a horn honk or a raised fist for all his cajoling about this crazy war and its crazier sponsors.


To be honest, I wasn’t all that eager to jump on the story when Goldberg left me a phone message saying he thought the votes were locked up. A resolution by a toothless City Council, calling for an end to the war in Iraq, is a symbolic gesture if not a waste of time. Might as well pass a resolution calling for national healthcare and sunny skies too.

But Goldberg’s voice was filled with excitement, as if he really and truly believed this could be a turning point in the rise of populist opposition to the war.

I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go and set eyes on a man who’s so relentlessly optimistic. Besides, Goldberg had raised a fair question: Why shouldn’t city officials shake a fist at Washington for blowing billions on the war while services go begging at home?

If Los Angeles signed on, he said, it would join 200 other cities across the nation that have said the money could be better spent on any number of woes. By his group’s calculation, based on a population breakdown, L.A. residents pay 1.27% of the cost of the war, which adds up to $277 million a month.

It’s kind of a slippery number, since the nearly half a trillion dollars spent on the war might not have been spent at all if there hadn’t been a war. But Goldberg’s point is that if we can afford to spend vast sums, we should pick better causes.

“Higher salaries for teachers. More books. Police officers. Healthcare for children and families. Drug programs. More housing on skid row instead of just arresting people.”

None of that will happen, Goldberg said, without an uprising that rattles cages in Washington, where Republicans favor the war, “and Democrats don’t have the guts to stop it.” Actually, congressional Reps. Maxine Waters and Diane Watson got a pass from Goldberg for their letters urging the City Council to adopt the antiwar resolution.

“People just have to do what they did in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Goldberg said. “They must cause enough disruption and chaos to make a difference.”


Anybody listening?

We’re in the middle of a war we should never have begun, as well as a presidential run-up campaign that’s bereft of new direction, and yet the lights are out on college campuses.

Can you speak up a little louder, Grandpa Goldberg? You might need a megaphone and a cattle prod to get the attention of the iPodded, MySpaced, YouTubed generation, which hasn’t gotten off the couch since Apple dropped the price of the iPhone.

About 75 antiwar folks -- many of them retired, like Richard Dawson, who sent out e-mails to resolution supporters; Stefani Rosenberg, who made the end-the-war arm bands; and Kit Kollenberg, who has rallied the forces since August -- made the trek to City Hall on Tuesday.


The group couldn’t have caught a better break: the item preceding the antiwar resolution was about all the necessary bridge and infrastructure repairs, for which, naturally, there is not enough money.

Can we blame the war for that?

“All the dots are connected in this world,” Councilman Bill Rosendahl told me before introducing the resolution. Not only has the city lost more than 25 soldiers, he said, but L.A.'s portion of the total cost of the war, by his estimate, is now at $4.5 billion.

That could have paid for 3,000 new police officers or 15,000 new teachers, he told council members. Instead, he said, we’ve spent $458 billion in this country on “an illegal and immoral war” that has gone disastrously, costing thousands of lives.


One of the speakers was Art’s son David Goldberg, treasurer of United Teachers Los Angeles. At some schools, he told the council, there are “more military recruiters than college counselors.”

Art Goldberg proudly applauded his son and all the other speakers. He sat in one of the middle rows with Woodrow Coleman, a friend from their days in the civil rights movement.

When the vote was tallied, the resolution won, 12-2.

“That’s incredible,” Goldberg said, 43 years into the free speech movement and still not out of breath.