“100,000 Poets for Change” celebrated in Oakland
University of California women's singing group. | Marilyn Bechtel / PW

OAKLAND, Calif.—For the seventh year in a row, poets, artists, musicians, writers, and playwrights from around the globe have joined together in 100,000 Poets for Change – events of many types, all celebrating artists who are working for a sustainable and peaceful world. Many, but not all, take place on the last weekend in September, and many are shared around the world via livestreaming and video.

One of several such events in the San Francisco Bay area took place on Sept. 29, at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library. Highlighting the program were area poets, singers, instrumentalists, and artists who shared their visions of a better world with community members.

Opening the program, Cassandra López, affectionately known in the community as Mama Cassie, spoke of the very difficult times people are experiencing throughout the U.S. and around the world with a president “guided by hatred for the community and for the planet.”

Despite the extra burden this is imposing on communities and families, López declared, “We will never give up. We will be seen, heard, and respected, and we will do it in unity – when things change in this country, the world changes. So we have a big responsibility. But tonight we are going to have a celebration of love, in unity, and in concern and freedom.”

Poet Roxanne Jones followed with a heartfelt tribute to the library as “Mama Cassie and Papa Cassie’s village of international history, culture, and library of love,” and invited all present to share in an abundant potluck feast put together by many community members.

“Papa Cassie” – library board president and Cassandra López’ husband, Juan Carlos López – continued the thought: “There’s food and sustenance for life in the struggle for jobs, against poverty and for the environment. But more than food for the belly, there’s sustenance for the mind and food for the soul… The kind of America we want to bring back is the kind of America pioneered by Dr. Martin Luther King, who is to my mind, the greatest leader we have had in this country.”

Painting by Eldica Miller. | Marilyn Bechtel / PW

Contributing to the celebration and its rededication to positive change were musicians including well-known area Gospel singer Leonard Smyer, a women’s choir of University of California students brought together by Akberet Hagos, and renowned Caribbean percussionist Val Serrant.

Poet Das Saswati protested the soaring inequality experienced by people today, and the ravishing of the earth itself, while Lupe Copendah’s ode to Prince was a tribute to the late artist’s lasting legacy and the sorrow his audiences experienced with his untimely death.

Cassandra López, herself a retired high school teacher, emphasized teachers’ roles in preparing students for life in far more ways than just academic pursuits, and gave a special tribute to teachers and former teachers in the audience, including artist Eldica Miller – several of whose works were displayed in the hall, and poet Kharyshi Wiginton.

As the program ended, everyone joined in singing the spiritual, “It’s a freedom train a’ comin’ – get on board, get on board!”


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.