Trinity Abroad: Berkeley

By Kate Kennedy

I admit my research exclusively involved the weather report when packing for my year abroad at Berkeley University in California. On arrival I was told Berkeley is home to the Free Speech Movement of 1964 and the state’s award winning frozen yoghurt.

Nicknamed “Bezerkely” for its radicalism it lives up to the bohemianism the other states associate with Northern California. Twenty minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, “The Berkeley Bubble” is a campus university that swallows the town and splits its residents into three categories.

First you’ve got your hipsters. Yes – the empty frame-wearing, fixie-bike-riders are not only exclusive to East London. They sip their soya milk clutching the newest David Edgar novel, avoiding the sun and balancing a banjo.

Next come the athletes-by-day and Fraternity-menaces-by-night. These scholarship Sportsmen enjoy their VIP queues in the stationary shops, private tuition and pick of the sorority’s crème de la crème. Dressed in “Cal” sports gear they have decks of collectible cards with their faces on them, and they tear through the cafeteria’s roasted chicken like it was the Day after Tomorrow. Finally, there are the hobos. The homeless, overwhelmingly friendly panhandlers of Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley’s main street that offers everything from hair-braiding to foot-binding. Ray Charles hobos will perform a ditty for a dollar outside the Asian Ghetto (Berkeley’s answer to Harcourt Diner) while harbingers will compose a poetry slam for you by the time you return from class. Whether a grimy tree-hugging eccentric, a tree-trunk-thighed quarterback, or a free traveller pushing a booze-filled trolley, the citizens of Berkeley all have a common thought on their mind this October: Prop 19, the legalisation of Marijuana.

On 2 November the State of California will vote on whether to legalise various marijuana-related activities, thus allowing local councils to regulate and impose taxes on these activities. It proposes that adults can to grow up to 25 square feet of cannabis and possess up to an ounce.

My handbag is overflowing with flyers I’ve been fed with over the time I’ve been here and the average conversation will eventually lead to repetitively listing the pros and cons of discussion-topic-dictator proposition 19. 113 million dollars is spent on marijuana in the US every year despite the 40 billion dollars used to prevent the use of it. Legalising it will allegedly solve the mountains of debt California has accumulated.

Nevertheless, the best argument I have heard in the three months I have been here now, came from a young, moustached man squatting in one of the “Co-Ops”, or community houses. When I asked him what he thought about the proposition he answered, “Well if Gary Johnson is for it, so am I! ‘Whatya talkin’ ‘bout Willis? Man, I love that guy.”

Gary Johnson is the former New Mexico Governor and not the child-star Gary Coleman from Diff’rent Strokes.

Come 2 November whichever category of Berkeley resident you fall under, the law is in your hands. Although perhaps there is hope: California Governor Schwarzenegger said that the legalisation of pot would make California a “laughing stock.” This comes from a man who got knocked up by Danny De Vito.