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Dona Spring: Irreplaceable Green, held office longer than any other

By John Selawsky

BERKELY - Dona Spring died on July 13, 2008. For the past thirty-five years she courageously battled rheumatoid arthritis, which progressively took away her mobility, her stamina, and her health, but never her dignity and integrity.

Dona served on the Berkeley City Council, representing District 4, for 16 years. This is the longest term for any elected Green in the state of California, and the second longest in the country.

Her longevity in office is attributable to her persistence, intelligence, and compassion as a representative on state, national, and international issues and on the day-to-day issues that impacted her constituents in District 4: street sweeping, stop signs and traffic lights, traffic calming, disability access, public works, and other city services. She was accessible, available, intelligent, and responsive. She was a rare public official in so many ways.

We will remember Dona Spring for many things: zipping through her District 4 to attend a neighborhood meeting or to City Hall in her motorized wheelchair and her tireless advocacy of social justice issues — for people with disabilities and the need for funding a new warm-water therapeutic pool, for a new Berkeley animal shelter and animal rights, for environmental issues, including strong and early support for the Berkeley Farmers' Markets.

She authored the resolution strongly condemning U.S. military action in Afghanistan, and gained national attention and vociferous criticism elsewhere for that resolution, but not here in Berkeley. She received death threats for that proposal, and for others she carried and sponsored.

I don't believe she feared death, since she had been facing it for many years. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Dennis Walton, Dona's companion of 25 years, who supported, aided, and more and more cared for Dona over the years. His commitment to Dona was unwavering. Dona's mother, Paula, had moved to Piedmont, only 5 miles from Berkeley, to be near her daughter during the last few years of Dona's life.

My own experience and relationship with Dona goes back over 15 years. We met first as Green Party activists; she had already been elected to her first term as a Berkeley City Councilmember in 1992 (she ran against and defeated in a mild upset a well-known and respected environmentalist in his own right, John Brauer).

She appointed me to Berkeley's Community Environmental Advisory Commission in 1995, on which I served for five years, eventually serving two terms as chair of the commission. I note this as an example of Dona's unerring eye and ear for placing people in positions where they could succeed, and grow.

From that five-year experience on CEAC, and with my own work in the school district, I ran for and won a seat on the Berkeley School Board in 2000. I am currently the President of the Board.

Dona supported the unrepresented, the voiceless, and the hidden amongst us. She never backed down from a debate, never apologized for taking the side of the disabled, or homeless, or poor.

She understood and lived the understanding that we are all ultimately judged, and the society we build is judged, on how we treat and empower those who have had little or no opportunity in their lives, or have had hardship and setback. We all need to remember that message in the work we continue to do.

(Readers can find more memories of Dona Spring from the Lindsay Vurek video, "Courage in Life & Politics -- The Dona Spring Story." This hour-long portrait can be found on YouTube.com. Search under "Dona Spring Courage").