Heartbreaking times, in need of wholeness and healing
By Carrie Rehak, Benicia resident, June 1, 2022
Locally and globally, we are living in deeply troubling and heartbreaking times, so in need of wholeness and healing. As the late U.S. Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and educator Toni Morrison reminds us, externalizing what is inside can also be a way to be in service of the world. She writes: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” Among many other values, the arts can help to open us to wonder and awe, to imagine what is not yet, to make us more ourselves, as individuals and as a community. They can help us be more human and more humane. Hence, as a local artist I am deeply grateful for the generous and courageous service of City Council candidate Kari Birdseye. Birdseye is running again for Benicia City Council after the Valero Energy Corp. and their allies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence our city’s election when Birdseye ran in 2018, as chronicled by KQED and other reputable media outlets.
Perhaps you recall the push polls, designed to spread false information about a candidate: “Did you know that Candidate Birdseye wants to shut down the refinery? Did you know that Birdseye is bad for Benicia, bad for business?” Or how IP addresses in the City of Benicia were fed false online advertisements, making the same claim with unflattering pictures of Birdseye. Such ads even ran on the Benicia High School library computers, where Birdseye’s own children first viewed them. In addition to the smear campaign, the Valero PAC spent big money on mailers promoting their endorsed candidates, Largaespada and Strawbridge. We also may recall that, two years later, the PAC unsuccessfully spent $250,000 trying to oppose the election of Mayor Young. Once again, the refinery is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars, over six times what a local candidate is permitted to spend, into its “Working Families for a Strong Benicia” PAC.
Like the prophets and visionaries, who throughout time have realigned us with our moral arc, Birdseye speaks truth to power. She will hold polluting industry in Benicia accountable and not negotiate in a back room at the community’s expense. She will not have to explain why Valero, who just made record profits off the rising price of gasoline, is spending so much money once again to try to buy City Council seats. She will not take corporate money.
What Birdseye will do is fight for the health and safety of every Benician.
Birdseye will run a clean campaign as she envisions a future for Benicia, for us and for generations to come that, in addition to economic growth and the diversification of our tax base, will also help to ensure access to such necessities as clean air and clean water. As a community, we must hold the Valero PAC accountable, which includes reporting to the City and on social media any strange polling calls that make untrue claims about any candidate as well as reading the fine print on any campaign information we receive in the mail or online. If it is paid for by “Working Families for a Strong Benicia,” it is paid for by big oil executives in Texas or the powerful building trade unions in Sacramento.
While many of us are familiar with Birdseye’s contributions to Benicia through her service in such roles as Chair of Benicia Planning Commission (since 2017), I personally resonate with Birdseye’s qualities and qualifications as a patron of the arts. More importantly, she values the role that beauty, creativity, truth-telling, and meaning-making play in our day-to-day lives, including the aesthetic of Benicia’s historic downtown. Music is also one of the arts that Birdseye supports. Not only is she married to a professional musician but she also attends many live music events, often in support of local musicians and music venues. In other words, Birdseye understands that we are not only here to survive but to thrive. So it is in hope that I support Kari Birdeye as a City Council candidate: that as a community we may respond to current challenges constructively and creatively, and that together we may be more connected, more vibrant, more engaged, and more whole — that is, more fully alive.