The War at 80: Berkeley’s Tributes

December 3, 2016
Image from the musical "Heart of Spain"

Image from the musical “Heart of Spain.” Photo Alessandra Mello

Berkeley, California, flagship campus of the University of California, knows how to stage a political fight.

Eighty years ago, graduate students like Robert Merriman; undergrads like Don McLeod, Mark Billings, and Ray Durem; and alumni like Wade Rollins, made their way to Spain to join the International Brigades. Other veterans of the Spanish Civil War came to Berkeley later. One of them, the historian Robert Colodny, refused to sign a loyalty oath during the McCarthy era and lost his job there. Some settled in the area even later, forming the core of the Bay Area Post of the VALB, and as they grew older arranged to donate their papers and memorabilia to the Bancroft Library on the UC campus.

To mark the 80th Anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, ALBA’s Board member and Berkeley Professor of Performance Studies Peter Glazer helped to organize a spectacular series of campus events—lectures, panel discussions, archival exhibitions from the Bancroft Library, film screenings, and poetry readings—honoring the volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The highlight of all these events was the staging of Glazer’s musical theatrical work Heart of Spain, co-written with composer Eric Peltoniemi—featuring six performances and a student cast of 17 actors and singers—that brought out the Bay Area friends and families to celebrate the American heroes of the Spanish Civil War. The intensity of this production awed a packed house on Sunday October 23, followed by an ALBA reception on campus. (See page *)

Two days later, ALBA hosted a panel discussion on “Investigative Reporting and Human Rights,” featuring a conversation between this year’s winner of the ALBA-Puffin Human Rights Activism Award, Jeremy Scahill, investigative reporter, war correspondent and author; and previous award-winner

and previous award-winner Kate Doyle, senior analyst of U.S. policy in Latin America at the National Security Archive (illness forced a last-minute cancellation by the co-recipient of the 2016 human rights award, Mexican activist and reporter, Lydia Cacho.)

Scahill’s work has sparked several congressional investigations and he has also won some of journalism’s highest honors. The captivating conversation ranged from issues on drone warfare, whistleblowing, and freedom of information to current politics. The talk was the perfect end to a weekend celebrating the courage and vision of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteers, connecting the struggles of eighty years ago with the political and human rights challenges of today.

The Puffin Foundation, once again, provided additional funding for these extraordinary events. Photos below by Richard Bermack and Jeannette Ferrary.