Has the Permanent Revolution Pooped Out In the People’s Republic?

January 2003

In this section of our November issue, we reported on a ballot measure in the city of Berkeley that would make illegal within city limits the sale of a cup of coffee that is not “socially and/or environmentally correctly cultivated” (SEC-C), that is, coffee that is not organic, shade-grown, or fair-trade certified. (Organic coffee is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides; shade-grown, or “bird-friendly,” coffee is grown under a canopy of forest trees, which must be home to several species of migratory birds; and fair-trade coffee is wholesaled at a guaranteed minimum price, whose growers belong to democratically organized co-operatives.) The measure proposed a fine of $100 and up to six months in jail per violation. That’s a severe penalty for a city whose Municipal Code boasts a Cannabis Ordinance that decrees that the “enforcement of marijuana laws” is to be the Police Department’s “lowest priority,” and that the police are to “make no arrests and issue no citations” for violations thereof.

Espresso shots no, bong hits sí ?

In our November issue, we observed that Berkeley “made its name by being a bedrock of ‘freedom,’” and wondered whether Berkeley voters would be willing to “vote away ‘freedom of choice’ in order to literally shove p.c. down people’s throats.”

Well, the ballot results are in and — who woulda thunk! — the citizens of Berkeley shoved the ballot measure down the proverbial coffee grinder. The measure was voted down by a stunning 70 percent of the electorate. The People have spoken — nay, the People have shouted. And true to a bumper sticker frequently sighted around town, “If the People Lead, the Leaders Will Tremble,” there must be a serious shaking of heads among the old-guard radical leaders as a result. Indeed, such a resounding victory for free-trade capitalism may portend the exhaustion of the Permanent Revolution in the People’s Republic of Berkeley.

As we pondered the significance of the SEC-C coffee vote over a nonfat, decaf double latté — from Starbucks, of course — we picked up an interesting piece of literature. It was a pamphlet titled, “Starbucks and Fair Trade: Supporting A Better Life For Coffee Farmers.” Ah, seditious literature, we thought, remembering that hostility to Starbucks helped fuel the ballot measure. The Revolution will not die! But after we discovered that the Starbucks logo on the cover had not been caricatured or tampered with, we realized that the pamphlet had actually been produced and distributed by The Man — Starbucks — and was really just self-congratulatory propaganda lauding the company’s efforts to “promote a better way of life for coffee farmers and help conserve the environment where coffee is sold.” So, we mused, every revolutionary idea gets co-opted in the end.


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New Oxford Notes: January 2003

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