Debate in Berkeley Focuses on Salute to the Flag

By Wallace Turner
The New York Times

Berkeley -- Calif. -- January 29, 1984 -- In October, after the United States sent troops to Grenada, someone burned an American flag at a protest here.

In the traceable and yet mystifying set of pseudopolitical events that followed, this random act of protest by an unidentified person has led to the city's elected officials' being deprived of a voice in spending $660,000 that is Berkeley's share this year of the Alameda County allotment of $12 million in Federal funds for job training.

It has been 20 years since the beginning of the political ferment that led many people to associate this city with the radical left. In September 1964 the placid University of California campus was disrupted when students insisted on a role in the political events that would shape their lives. This began with simple demands that the university rescind its ban on partisan activities on campus. These demands escalated to a sit-in at Sproul Hall that was seized upon by Ronald Reagan as a basis for the beginning of his political career.

Campus Is Calmer Now

The university speedily arranged accords with the student leaders by permitting political activity, but pressures on the Selective Service System to supply soldiers for the unpopular Vietnam War further increased tensions.

Meantime, Mr. Reagan was elected Governor of California, providing a further target of student protest. By 1969 the Berkeley scene had reached the point where the university was prevented by a full-blown riot from developing land that it had purchased for student housing but that off-campus radicals had seized and labeled Peoples Park.

The changing political climate of the 1970's coupled with significant changes in the American business system's needs for people trained in computer technology, engineering, mathematics and finance have effectively reversed those trends that began 20 years ago.

It Began in 1971

But at intervals, the City Council in this city of 103,000 people across the bay from San Francisco reaches new political plateaus as in the current controversy over its refusal to open meetings with a flag salute and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

It all began on the night of May 4, 1971, when D'Army Bailey, a lawyer and leader of the radical group that took control of the Berkeley City Council that year, refused to rise for the flag salute because, he said then, the United States was not ''one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.''

Mr. Bailey was recalled from office a few months later. He said in an interview published here last week that he now practices law in Memphis, where he recites the Pledge frequently in his Boy Scout volunteer work.

Defiance a Tradition

Yet the act of defiance lives on and has become a tradition here. At a meeting in early November of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in the courthouse in Oakland, Supervisor Charles Santana, waved a picture of the flag-burning. He demanded that the Berkeley police enforce laws that prohibit defacing or dishonoring the flag. After he received a letter of congratulations from President Reagan, Mr. Santana said the Berkeley City Council refused to open its sessions with a flag salute; he said, ''That's become very offensive to me.''

He proposed to cut Berkeley's Council out of any voice in the spending of Federal appropriations for job training. Despite the protest by Supervisor John George that ''Berkeley is an oasis of civilization in this county'' and that ''we should keep our snouts out of the Berkeley garden,'' the proposal was approved 4 to 1.

Councilwoman Stands Mute

The Alameda County Employment and Training Board on Dec. 28 voted 11 to 2 to exclude the Berkeley Council from its discussions on spending the Federal money.

Meanwhile, Berkeley Councilman Leo Bach lost his attempt to get the Council to reinstate the Pledge. Mr. Bach, a retired printing company owner, also began raising funds to buy flags for Berkeley schools, which do not fly them even though state law requires it.

Then, at last Tuesday night's Council meeting, about 15 Berkeley residents led by Peggy Casey of the Berkeley Women's Chamber of Commerce, marched in carrying a flag.

Miss Casey spoke passionately of the flag as representing freedom of choice, and then led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Six of the nine Council members were present. They rose, as did the City Manager, City Attorney and clerks, placed their right hands over their hearts and recited the Pledge.

Some present objected that President Reagan's policies were thereby supported. The council is still on record as opposing the flag salute.

''By supporting the flag, they're supporting their nation, not any administration,'' said Bob Gilmore, a Berkeley merchant. ''We're all liberal or we wouldn't be living in Berkeley.''

Councilwoman Andrea Washburn said she voted against reinstating the flag salute because it becomes ''an occasion for an ideological circus.'' She said ''there is nothing about saying the Pledge that makes one a better or worse person.''

Lawsuit Is Threatened

Councilman John Denton, an opponent of the flag salute, said all Council members ''have taken an oath of office to support the Constitution.''

He said he thought the flag salute controversy was a political move by Mr. Bach and Mr. Santana.

''It sounds almost like they want us to affirm Reagan's foreign policy,'' he said.

Nor is the end in sight. Friday the Berkeley City Council wrote to California Gov. George Deukmejian threatening to sue to block disbursement of the Federal money unless its share is given directly to it to spend.

GRAPHIC: photo of demonstrators in Berkeley

Copyright 1984 The New York Times Company