Jerry Mandel (1960)

Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Sonoma State, Writer and Researcher

My sociology graduate school was Berkeley in 'the '60's' - entered 1960, Ph.D. 1969. I entered grad school at age 25, but I'd been thinking 'sociologically' since age 5. I was an idiot savant with numbers, statistics, and methodology, but the advent of the computer at UC (about 1963) transformed me from near genius to near dummy.

Sociology, as I experienced it was exciting largely because of its political relevance, even though much of the classwork and most of my professors were neither particularly exciting nor politically relevant. There were, then, a slew of 'new' social causes in which to become involved, and even influential'at just about the time Marx and Marxism were being interred. (Talcott Parsons, by contrast, never seemed alive enough to warrant a big funeral or much mourning).

Early in the '60's I participated in local political issues, I was hosed down SF City Hall's steps in the HUAC demonstrations; was a campus stump speaker for CORE (re supermarket hiring); headed the Berkeley campus' Student Civil Liberties Union; and did several housing studies for groups in communities threatened by urban renewal.

The most important , and exciting, study was presented at the first major anti-urban renewal demonstration in San Francisco to preserve the Fillmore district. A few months previously I helped direct a volunteer study in Hunters Point to protest proposed urban renewal clearance, which succeeded in putting a damper on Redevelopment Agency plans for that area. In April 1964, three classmates : Carl Werthman, Mike Miller (a sociology Grad student for only one year) and Herman Blake asked me to do research for the United Freedom Movement, an off-shoot of the NAACP in San Francisco, to be presented at an imminent San Francisco Board of Supervisor hearing. In just under a week I conceived of a report, got the data, wrote, typed and corrected the ditto-masters (the slow and messy means of reproduction at the time), found a machine, ran off about 15 copies, and sped to the hearings arriving 4 ½ hours after its scheduled beginning. 1,000 residents turned up (thanks to community organizers, like Mike); hearings were moved to a larger hall; a supper break was necessary; and so I arrived 10 minutes before our side began its testimony. Right off, I was introduced as the key researcher for UFM. My argument: by combining blocks on the area's borders (well maintained buildings lived in by rich whites), with the entire Fillmore district (old housing lived in overwhelmingly by poor blacks), the agency claimed Western Addition II was mixed, in housing, incomes, races, and improvement vs.-- relocation. In fact, the wealthy fringe areas would all be improved and the Fillmore totally demolished. As I began to lay out the finding I heard stamping and felt the floor trembling. Urban renewal planning in San Francisco changed that very moment. I didn't 'cause' the change; the research was not original (similar scenes happened in cities across the country); urban renewal in San Francisco did not end; and the great old Fillmore was slowly but surely replaced by a new but incoherent and bland neighborhood but, for better or worse, plans for Western Addition II were derailed; massive, instant demolition in San Francisco was a thing of the past. Racism in housing policy would thereafter be more subtle, even kinder and gentler.

Other sociologists later tried to influence local urban renewal. At follow-up hearings on Western Addition II, Nathan Glazer (whose first urban Sociology class at Berkeley [1963] was attended by Carl, Mike and myself) gave a quintessentially sociological defense of Fillmore on the basis of its being a superb Black community which the Redevelopment Agency did not begin to fathom and should not touch. A few years later, another sociology graduate student, class of 1960 Harry Brill was an activist researcher opposing the insatiable Redevelopment Agency when it set its sights on the housing units of poor persons living South of Market in San Francisco.

Carl, Mike and myself would leave academia. Mike's career has been as a community organizer. After the Fillmore demonstrations, he helped create and headed the Mission Coalition which wrung concessions from BART, guaranteeing that local businesses and residences would not be torn down or boarded up during BART construction, and that there be two Mission stations which would have charm and local character. This preserved and enhanced a wonderful Latino community. Carl went directly from grad school to UC faculty, yet was so popular and busy outside academia, and so inattentive to administrative details, that UC let him go. He soon was Jerry Brown's friend, confidants, and pollster when Brown first decided to run for governor, and won. Carl was given an office in the Governor's Mansion and was a key back-stage figure (and right-hand man) during Brown's first 2 years as governor Brown's most radical, independent, and successful years. Carl also wrote 2 major housing studies one in 1966 on New Towns, and a massive study of the major new federal housing program of the early 1980's 'Section 8 housing' completed in 1984 (a few months before he died). On the first study, Carl and I were co-authors; on the latter study I was recruited and worked full-time the last 6 weeks (of a multi-year project) as editor, sounding board, outliner, typist, and calming influence.

Except for the anti-renewal and the new town studies, and teaching Urban Sociology at Sonoma State College (1969-1972), housing was not my focus. Early in the 1960's I became interested in marijuana, especially the history and implications of prohibition. Banning marijuana always seemed to me idiocy and extraordinarily (and increasingly) harmful. The Sociology of Drugs course I taught at Sonoma State College drew a small crowd. After my third year there (when I was Department Chair), I got a fellowship to go to Washington D.C.; in 1974 I was doing research on drug problems of US youth in Europe, which based in Paris and St. Tropez. (Conclusion: 8 different European societies had saner drug policies than the US; the US policies caused the problems. The report was re-written by my 'liberal' sponsoring agency.) Life was so exciting and intellectually stimulating that I let Sonoma go and never again got back to academia. (Being white, male, and not having published a book didn't help.) From 1972-1981 I was primarily in Washington DC, and hated it. With nary an exception, the government employees in Washington running the drug agencies enforcement and treatment were the most naive people I ever met on the drug issue. US drug policies are deliberately ignorant, mean-spirited and socially destructive, yet unstoppable. My views and government policy were so at odds that my best year from 1974-1981 was spent on a farm. My longest job ran from 1989-1994, when I 'cloned' a San Francisco project providing AIDS outreach services to drug injectors for Bronx Community College, and directed the project (La Familia Unida) in Mott Haven its first five years. The job was exciting and rewarding, but New York City on the drug issue is ultra-conservative light years behind the Bay Area. The thought of recuperating from major heart surgery in a small New York City apartment pushed me back home, to Berkeley in 1994.

The past 8 years I resumed drug research, at my 'leisure' (i.e., with a vengeance). My earliest research always seemed to me to be lacking a 'prime mover'; the issues, the raison d'etre to prohibition, had been decided at some distant time and place. At last, I took a close look at Britain in Asia (India and China) where a debate raged for the better part of a century between, on the one hand, the British colonial class (my heroes) and the masses (Indian opium growers and processors, and Chinese opium smokers) who were their allies, and, on the prohibitionist side, a narrow strata of top Imperial Chinese along with 3,000 extraordinarily dedicated, influential, ignorant and quite possibly mad Protestant (English and American) missionaries in China. I've also stayed active in the medical marijuana movement. For years I've been inundated with data the history of drug prohibition is weirder, yet more relevant, than I could ever have imagined when I was a graduate student. (The first major 'modern' war between Anglo-European culture and 'the East' was the Opium War circa 1840; the earliest tales about marijuana which were used to justify it prohibition in the US, in 1937, involved young men in the Middle East who, in the late 11th century, individually, and often suicidally, attacked Christian crusaders. The Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan ben Sabbah [the man behind those assassins], meet Osama bin Laden.)

In retrospect I've been blessed by the intelligent, original, funny, and interesting life-long friends from my graduate days in Berkeley, and downright lucky to have settled in Berkeley where it took me 35 years to discover that UC's Doe Library was superb for the very drug issues which most interest me now. Among my regrets are that I so badly misjudged my ability to make a living wage outside of academia, and that in these late years, when I have amassed a truly world class library of 18th & early 20th century writings on the history of drug prohibition, I have neither the skills nor resources to convert them to a computerized library; and that I see not the slightest sign that the sociology department in Berkeley the past 20 years seems as interested in drugs and drug policy as were the graduate student classmates and our faculty in the '60's, or as I and my surviving graduate students are today.

Dissertation Title: 
Official Statistics and the Reality of Crime