One morning in May 1969, a student at Berkeley High School left class and walked to Sproul Plaza to join a protest. Soon he found himself amid tear gas and shotgun fire as protesters clashed with police above People’s Park.
This was by no means the first demonstration Steve Wasserman had seen. His parents, now 92, have involved their three children in political action almost since birth. But it is perhaps the most dramatic example of a family whose activities over the past 60 or so years, along with those of so many others, have personified Berkeley.
Ann and Al Wasserman were leaders of the Berkeley Citizens Action party, one of the early influences that steered the city politically leftward in the mid-1960s. Steve is now publisher of the nonprofit Berkeley Heyday press; his sister Sherry is co-founder and vice president of Another Planet Entertainment. All four live in Berkeley, while sister Rena is senior vice president of Nederlander Concerts and lives in South Pasadena.
The siblings accompanied their parents to countless protests as children.
“Wherever we went, our kids went,” Ann said in a March interview with her husband Al at the SenS Hotel on Shattuck Avenue.
“In 1965, we took part in the (civil rights) demonstration in Selma with our three children. We marched on the Golden Gate Bridge,” said Ann. Steve was 13, Rena was 10 and Sherry was 8.
Sipping coffee in the downstairs bistro of the former French Laundry, Ann and Al thought back to their 59-year stay in Berkeley.
“It was accidental,” Al said of the family’s move to Berkeley in 1963. At the time, Al was an engineer at Bechtel, and the company assigned him to a project that was to change Berkeley and the city forever. Bay Area – the then-nascent Bay Area rapid transit system. A colleague recommended Berkeley for its climate, not its politics.
“In 1963, politics were not so progressive. It was a Republican town,” Al said. “Berkeley has changed over the years; it all started almost that year.
“Movements for free speech, against war and for civil rights all started within four or five years,” he said. Al became a lawyer in 1968, which led to his eventual involvement as a progressive lawyer and local ACLU president.
His wife, Ann Dragoon Wasserman, influenced not just the shape of politics in Berkeley, but the shape of generations of women.
Before moving to Berkeley as a dancer, she studied at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. She had a 52-year career as an exercise teacher at Berkeley and Albany. From 1968 she ran a series of popular exercise classes, teaching four or more classes a week and only dropping out when forced to when lockdown closed the venue where she taught for decades.
She was 91 years old. After the building closed, Ann decided it was time to retire.
Marriage politics “is in our blood. It’s in our genes,” Ann said.
“I was 7 years old, riding on my dad’s shoulders during the May Day protests,” said Al, a New York native. “We were red diaper babies before the term was coined.”
At least in Steve’s case, the liberal bent was encouraged by reading.
When he was 12, Steve wanted to read “On the Beach,” an anti-nuclear tome, Ann said. “The librarian said to me, ‘We don’t allow children to borrow adult books.’
“I told him, ‘I’m not banning any books.’ He checked it and read it cover to cover.
Three years later, in 1968, Steve and fellow student Ronnie Stevenson led a student strike at Berkeley High School that led to the founding of the school’s pioneering African American Studies department.
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1974, Steve left Berkeley in 1977. He later described the feeling of missing the city “like the amputee is said to be missing the phantom limb.
He returned to Berkeley in 2016 to run Heyday after serving in various high-profile roles, including editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
Heyday specializes in California history, the environment, Indigenous peoples, and social justice. Unsurprisingly, under Steve’s leadership, the company took on a more political orientation. Some examples are those of Peter Schrag California Strikes Back: The Golden State in the Age of Trump and a book by Don Cox about his experiences in the Black Panther Party.
Steve lives in the Berkeley Hills with his partner Mina Witteman; his four children carry on the tradition of achievement in the family, although none of them live in Berkeley.
Just as politics is woven into the warp and weft of Berkeley’s culture, music has always played a major role, from spontaneous drumming sessions in parks to the Greek Theater – with 8,500 seats, the largest venue concert in the city.
It’s also the first location that Sherry Wasserman’s Another Planet Entertainment took after co-founding the concert production company in 2003.
Like her brother, Sherry attended Berkeley High. Also, like her brother, she found her passion while a student at Berkeley High.
When she attended Berkeley High in the 1970s, the famous Bay Area promotional company, Bill Graham Presents, held events at the Berkeley Community Theater, which is on campus.
“We never thought of it as a job, but for many of us it became our lifelong passion and gave us a purpose that will last a lifetime,” Sherry said in an email.
Sherry and Steve’s sister Rena also credited her work with Bill Graham at Berkeley High as her introduction to concert promotion. Rena is now senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Nederlander Concerts. (Rena declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Working with Bill Graham, Sherry transitioned from box office work to talent, buying and overseeing much of the concert staff and operations in the 1980s. Then, shortly after Bill Graham’s death, when the Corporate giant Clear Channel (later to become Live Nation) bought the company, she jumped ship with longtime colleague Gregg Perloff, with whom she co-founded their new company.
In her resignation letter, she said, “My upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area at Berkeley and my tenure with Bill Graham and the values he taught us are not welcome in the corporate culture. from Clear Channel. We are literally from another planet.
Over the past nearly 20 years, Another Planet has become the largest independently owned and operated concert promotion company in the United States, Sherry said. He is known for producing the Outside Lands concert in San Francisco and exclusively operates and books the Independent in San Francisco, the Fox Theater Oakland, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and, of course, the Greek, as some are calling.
“The Greek Theater has always been our favorite venue, with an unusually intimate atmosphere for its capacity. It’s our first home – kind of like a first child, it’s special,” Sherry said.
Artists such as Bob Dylan, Radiohead, White Stripes, Daft Punk and Tom Petty have played Greek. A concert with six-time Grammy winner Brandi Carlile will take place on June 18.
The company is based in Berkeley, with offices in Oakland and San Francisco.
“Bringing 300,000 people to the Berkeley area each concert season economically supports the city of Berkeley in untold ways,” Sherry said.
In January, the company announced plans to partner with the owners of the Castro Theater in San Francisco to renovate the historic building and present live events. Some fans have wondered about the future of repertoire film in theaters.
“We believe that our management of the Castro will be respectful of its origins and the community in which it is found while programming content so that a wider audience can also enjoy this theatrical gem,” Sherry said.
Along with restaurants, travel and hospitality, the entertainment industry has taken a huge hit from COVID-19, but Sherry seemed optimistic about Another Planet’s future.
It’s been tough, she said, but the society’s annual three-day Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park was a turning point.
“The sheer joy of 70,000 people every day being together was palpable, from the audience to the performers. It was one of the few genuine good feelings we’ve had in over two years,” Sherry said.
“It gave us hope that life as we once knew it might indeed return at some point,” she said. “Like everyone else, we don’t have a COVID crystal ball, but hopefully we’ll weather this long storm.”