Last week a long-time activist with World Can’t Wait in the San Francisco Bay Area passed away after a prolonged illness. Bertha “Bea” Johnson was a respected and loved part of the resistance community in the Bay Area and beyond. Often seen in her wheelchair at protests, Bea fearlessly represented for the people of the world, sporting a “super picket” attached to the back of her chair, and sometimes even running interference between riot police looking to target youth for arrest or beatings.
San Francisco chapter organizer MaryAnn Thomas said, “Bea was so giving. She was always ready to help when she could. Once, when she was in the hospital, during one of her many stays there, we needed orange ribbons for a John Yoo protest, so I got the ribbon-making supplies to her in the hospital and she made them there. She made thousands of them. We would have ribbon making evenings. Two or three of us working together talking about politics and life. She liked to make them and see them on people but I was the ribbon pusher. She loved the interaction with all the people from World Can’t Wait and from the Revolution Book Store. She was very interested in learning more and more about the history of revolution.”
Bea was multi-faceted and multi-talented. She can be seen giving a speech on the centrality of abortion rights to the struggle for justice, condemning the hypocrisy of a world that would give the war president Obama a “peace prize” while at it. MaryAnn Thomas said, “She was also an advocate for people with disabilities. If a place wasn’t wheelchair accessible and should have been she often made sure they became more accessible. But she would never fault the small shop owners. She loved to cook for people. She had many events on the roof of her apartment building in downtown Berkeley. There would be music and she would cook and she would sing. She had a beautiful voice.”
In 2008 World Can’t Wait was in the thick of the “Battle of Berkeley.” A Marine Corps recruiting station had opened downtown, blocks from Berkeley High and the UC campus — triggering a fierce, community-wide showdown against the war and war machine that broke national news headlines, as pro-war right-wingers invaded Berkeley’s civic center and a multi-level, diverse resistance rose up to confront them: “Murder, rape, torture, war! That’s what they’re recruiting for!”
Bea’s apartment was right next to the recruiting station, and early on, hearing the commotion day after day, she decided to wheel on over on her chair and discover for herself what all the chanting and yelling (and police activity) were about. She listened, and looked around at the situation, and the World Can’t Wait people who met her that day remember vividly how Bea was looking at our signs, reading our flyers, and she asked us the best questions!
Bea came down to the protest to see why people were protesting — and there she met World Can’t Wait — and she never left. Within weeks she became a steadfast, dedicated, generous, ornery and outspoken voice on the World Can’t Wait tip. For the next four years, Bea was hardcore with every national campaign and every local action on the World Can’t Wait mission. When she believed a truth was important, she was willing ready and able to put herself on the line to stand up to make it known. This is a quality, a personality, a way to live – that is precious, should spread, and should inspire.
Our hearts are with those closest to Bea, as she is sorely missed.