Interview with Lincoln Place Tenants Assoc. President Sheila Bernard

By Rex Butters

Beachhead: How long have you lived in Venice?

Sheila Bernard: Since 1988.

Beachhead: You’re the president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association. How did you get involved?
Bernard: I moved into Lincoln Place thinking it would be a temporary thing. That was August, ‘88. I saw a notice that was being sent around by the tenants’ association, and I went to the meeting at Penmar Park. There was this sea of white hair, hundreds of seniors being threatened with eviction, and that was it. I was hooked.

Beachhead: Were you an activist before this?

Bernard: I had been involved in the food movement, the organic food movement, the food co-op movement for many years in the mid to late seventies. Sort of an activist by nature, and I believe you can always find some way to engage, either where you work or where you live, on something that will improve this society. There’s always a way to engage.

Beachhead: What are the roots of your activism?

Bernard: It’s part of my job description as an adult, to first take care of myself, and then take care of my immediate family. Then, your responsibilities kinda go outward in concentric circles. If you can take care of yourself and you can take care of your immediate family, then the next thing is to do your part to take care of your community, your neighborhood. Those concentric circles can expand outward: your city, your country, the world. As far as you can go, as much time and energy you can have without compromising your more personal responsibilities, I think we all need to go beyond just taking care of ourselves and our families, because if we don’t, then democracy’s impossible because it requires participation and volunteering.
Beachhead: What women inspire you in your life?

Bernard: One woman who has been very inspirational to me is Lois Arkin, the founder of L.A. Eco-Village. She is true to her ideals to a greater extent than almost anyone I’ve ever met.

Beachhead: How about growing up?

Bernard: My family is full of strong women and I Iearned from all of them.

Beachhead: The mess at Lincoln Place has been going for so long. You’ve been involved for nearly 20 years. Where do you find the strength to go up against corporate aggression and the indifference of city officials, their lawyers, the dirty tricks? How do you fight against those overwhelming odds day after day?

Bernard: There’s always a way to engage for social change, and once you do, all the issues you care about, the war, poverty, environmental pollution, people’s inhumanity to one another, it’s all there. Every issue you care about is embedded in the issue you become involved in. I figure a person has to make a stand at some point. Once you make your stand, you can accomplish a great deal just by digging in and staying put and taking it to the wall. That’s what gives me the strength to keep on going. I want to know how this is going to resolve, and I also know that if I don’t give up that some good is going to come from it. Maybe not everything I wanted, but some good is going to come of it, if I just take it to the wall, as far as I can go.

Posted: Thu - March 1, 2007 at 04:00 PM