Activist Panel Draws Earth Day Crowd

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Hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts flocked to Civic Center Park on Saturday to celebrate Earth Day and soak up the words of some environmental legends.

Longtime consumer advocate and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader attended the event in Downtown Berkeley to participate in a discussion with U.S. senatorial candidate Medea Benjamin and Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in a redwood tree for two years to prevent it from being cut down.

The three activists asked each other questions about political participation, combating corporations and their own personal motivations.

Nader said his "search for justice" has sustained him over the years, and that the masses can attain justice by opening their eyes to the world around them.

"We aren't planning our future," Nader said. "The giant corporations are. The few are deciding the world for the many. Once the many become more informed, these things start to turn around."

Most people are unaware of environmentally friendly technologies like solar heating, Nader said. He also said it is time to grow industrial hemp in the United States, a comment that elicited cheers from the crowd.

"Industrial hemp is ready to be used here," Nader said. "Our farmers want to grow it and it's good for the environment."

Hill, the only participant not seeking elected office, encouraged voters to look beyond the two major political parties.

"We need to start voting our hearts," she said. "As long as we keep voting for the lesser of two evils, all we'll ever have is evil."

The Berkeley City Council recently designated April 2 as Julia Butterfly Hill Day to honor Hill's efforts to save the tree she named Luna. Hill said her unusual steps were motivated by love.

"Love is not a foo-foo new-agey thing," she said. "It's about action."

City Councilmember Dona Spring, who belongs to the Green Party, said she attended the celebration to show her support for Nader and Benjamin, and because she admires Hill's perseverance.

"Julia Butterfly Hill is such an inspiring example of an individual's ability to create change through sacrifice," Spring said.

Other Bay Area locals who laid blankets on the grass and enjoyed the sunny weather said the event gave them a chance to "reconnect" with the community.

"I did it as a favor to myself to get back to my humanness and out of my work mode," said Marin County resident Michael McKenzie. "It helped me get out of my sense of isolation and see that things are a lot more possible in regard to change than I'm led to believe."

In addition to the prominent guests, Berkeley's Earth Day celebration also featured several musicians and a stilt-walker disguised as a tree.


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