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  • 204. How the Supreme Court divided America

    In Berkeley Talks episode 204, Michael Waldman, president and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, discusses the history of the Supreme Court and how its recent decisions will impact generations to come. “When you think of the topics for the first two years of this supermajority — guns, abortion, affirmative action, the interest of the fossil fuel industry — that doesn't sound like a court,” Waldman said to UC Berkeley Law Professor Maria Echaveste, whom he joined in conversation in April 2024. “That sounds like a political caucus.“And so, I think disentangling our reverence for the Constitution and the rule of law, which is vital to the country and deeply embedded in who we are, with the specific role of the Supreme Court, and especially this Supreme Court, is a challenge. But I think we have to find a way to do it.”The Supreme Court issued decisions in June and July that may have historic impacts on American society, but because Waldman's talk took place before these decisions were issued, he doesn’t discuss them in this conversation.This event was hosted by Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy as part of its new Interrogating Democracy series.The Brennan Center is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving systems of democracy and justice. Waldman is a constitutional lawyer and author of the 2023 book, The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America. He served as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States in 2021 and worked in the White House for President Bill Clinton alongside Echaveste.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.Screenshot of the cover of Waldman's book, The Supermajority.

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  • 203. Reconsidering Black America’s relationship to the plantation

    In Berkeley Talks episode 203, Alisha Gaines, a professor of English and an affiliate faculty member in African American studies at Florida State University, discusses why it’s important for Black America to “excavate and reconsider” its relationship to the plantation. “If we were to approach the plantation with an intention to hold space for the Black people who stayed and labored there,” said Gaines at a UC Berkeley event in April, “we might see the plantation as another origin story — one of resistance, joy, love, craftsmanship and survival, and not just dehumanization and the porn of Black suffering.”Gaines is currently at work on Children of the Plantationocene, a forthcoming book project about Black American origin stories, and is the first scholar-in-residence of Berkeley’s Banned Scholars Project. The project was launched by the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies in March 2024 in response to attacks on academic freedom across the nation.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( courtesy of Alisha Gaines.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
  • 202. Adam Gopnik on what it takes to keep liberal democracies alive

    In Berkeley Talks episode 202, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik discusses liberalism — what it means, why we need it and the endless dedication it requires to maintain. Liberal democracy, he said at a UC Berkeley event in April, depends on two pillars: free and fair elections and the practice of open institutions, places where people can meet and debate without the pressures of overt supervision. Gopnik said these spaces of “commonplace civilization” — coffeehouses, parks, even zoos — enable democratic elections to “reform, accelerate and improve.”  “These secondary institutions … are not in themselves explicitly political at all, but provide little arenas in which we learn the habits of coexistence, mutual toleration and the difficult, but necessary, business of collaborating with those who come from vastly different backgrounds, classes, castes and creeds from ourselves.”And what makes liberalism unique, he said, is that it requires a commitment to constant reform. “People get exhausted by the search for perpetual reform,” he said. “But we have to be committed to reform because our circles of compassion, no matter how we try to broaden them, come to an end.”So it’s up to each of us, he said, to always refocus our attention on the other, to re-understand and expand our circles of compassion.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.Photo courtesy of Adam Gopnik.
  • 201. 'Wave' memoirist on writing about unimaginable loss

    In 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala was on vacation with her family on the coast of Sri Lanka when a tsunami struck the South Asian island. It killed her husband, their two sons and her parents, leaving Deraniyagala alone in a reality she couldn’t comprehend. In Berkeley Talks episode 201, Deraniyagala discusses her all-consuming grief in the aftermath of the tragedy and the process of writing about it in her 2013 memoir, Wave.“Wave was the wave was the wave,” said Deraniyagala, who spoke in April 2024 at an event for Art of Writing, a program of UC Berkeley’s Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities. “What mattered was the loss. It could have been a tree. It just happened to be the wave. I wasn't that interested in how it happened. It was more this otherworldly situation where I had a life, I didn't have a life, and it took 10 minutes between the two.“So that I was trying to figure out, and I think the whole book Wave was trying to. Everything you know vanishes in an instant, literally in an instant, with no warning. … I experienced something that I didn't have words for. I didn't know what was happening when it was happening, which is why I was sure I was dreaming.”Deraniyagala, an economist who teaches at the University of London and Columbia University, described herself as "an accidental writer.” She said her initial goal, at the urging of her therapist, was to write for herself in attempt to make sense of a loss that "one can't write easily or put into sentences or find words for," she told Ramona Naddaff, Berkeley associate professor of rhetoric and founding director of Art of Writing, whom Deraniyagala joined in conversation for the event.But in the painstaking process of writing and rewriting, Deraniyagala found her voice. And after eight years, Wave was published. It became a New York Times bestseller and won the PEN Ackerley Prize in 2013.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.Photo by Emily Thompson.
  • 200. Gigi Sohn on her fight for an open internet

    In Berkeley Talks episode 200, Gigi Sohn, one of the nation’s leading public advocates for equal access to the internet, delivers the keynote address at the UC Berkeley School of Information’s 2024 commencement ceremony. “I'd like to share with you some of the twists and turns of my professional journey as a public advocate in the world of communications and technology policy,” Sohn began at the May 18 event. … “I'm hoping that by sharing my story, you'll be inspired to keep choosing the path that you know is right for you and for society, even if it sometimes comes at a cost.”Sohn began her story in the late 1980s, when she started a career in communications law. It was through this work, she said, that she learned the importance of media to a healthy democracy. “Those with access to the [communications] networks influenced the debates that shaped public policy and decided elections,” Sohn said. “Those without were simply perilous. The internet promised to change all of that. … The world that advocates like me envisioned was one where everyone would have a voice and where the marketplace of ideas, and ultimately democracy, would flourish. “But that ideal wouldn't happen by itself.”In her speech, Sohn detailed her lifelong career as a public interest advocate, her fraught White House nominations to serve on the Federal Communications Commission and the importance of staying true to herself.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Noah Berger for UC Berkeley's School of Information.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
  • 199. Harry Edwards to sociology grads: Even in turbulent times, always believe in yourself

    In Berkeley Talks episode 199, Harry Edwards, a renowned sports activist and UC Berkeley professor emeritus of sociology, gives the keynote address at the Department of Sociology’s 2024 commencement ceremony. “As I stand here before you, in the twilight of my life's time of long shadows,” said Edwards at the May 13 event, “from a perspective informed by my 81 years of experience, and by a retrospective assessment of the lessons learned over my 60 years of activism, what is my advice and message to you young people today? What emerges as most critically germane and relevant in today's climate?“First: Even in turbulent times, in the midst of all of the challenges, contradictions and confusion to be faced, never cease to believe in yourself and your capacities to realize your dreams. “From time to time, you might have to take a different path than you had anticipated and planned, but you can still get there. Achievement of your dreams always begins with a belief in yourself. Never allow anyone to dissuade you of this imperative disposition. And if someone so much as even tries, you tell them that the good doctor said you need to go and get a second opinion.”Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.UC Berkeley photo by Allena Cayce.
  • 198. Feeling like a failure isn't the same as failing, filmmaker tells journalism grads

    In Berkeley Talks episode 198, documentary filmmaker Carrie Lozano delivers the keynote address at the 2024 Berkeley Journalism commencement ceremony. Lozano, who graduated from the school of journalism in 2005 and later taught in its documentary program, is now president and CEO of ITVS, a nonprofit that coproduces independent films for PBS and produces the acclaimed series, Independent Lens. “I've had a lot of tough moments in my career, sometimes feeling like I was not going to recover,” Lozano told the graduates at the May 11 event. “I have put energy into my process for dealing with staggering mistakes and things that don't work out.“First, I own my mistakes. We all make mistakes and it's OK to own them and take responsibility. And it's so liberating actually to just take responsibility for them. And then I do this: I allow myself, depending on the gravity of the situation, time to sulk or to cry, to be depressed, to be upset, to be angry, to feel all the feelings. But I am finite about it. Some things require a few hours. Some things might require a few days. Some things might require therapy. Whatever it is, I figure it out.“And then, I just try to figure out: What did I learn? How can I make it worth it? That was so damn painful … how can I make this mean something to me? How can I do better next time? Or at least not repeat it?"“It's super helpful to know that the feeling of failure is not the same thing as failing," she continued. "It's part of being human. It's part of growing. It's necessary. It's messy. It's life.”Berkeley Journalism recently launched a $54.4-million campaign to support the next generation of journalists whose stories will affect democracy, justice, human rights and the health of our environment. Learn more about the Campaign for Berkeley Journalism.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News ( by Blue Dot Sessions.UC Berkeley photo by Amin Muhammad.