Law Professor, Writer, Former College President, and Community Activist
Peter Gabel is a law professor, writer, former College President, and community activist, who has devoted his life to the creation of a world based on empathy, compassion, and mutual recognition of our common humanity. A phi beta kappa graduate of Harvard College and magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, Peter is the former president of New College of California, a non-traditional institution which emerged from the social idealism of the 1960s and sought to link education with the creation of a more just, sacred, and sustainable world. He was also for more than thirty years a professor at New College’s renowned public-interest law school in San Francisco, where he educated several generations of law students in how to link legal activism with movements for progressive social change. He was a founder of the influential Critical Legal Studies movement in legal scholarship, and his writing about law has shown the ways that our legal system founded on the principle of individual rights has both advanced and limited social movements pursuing the creation of a more humane, just, and socially connected society. Most recently, Peter co-founded and now co-chairs the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics, a nationwide group of law teachers, lawyers, and law students who aspire to transforming our adversarial, rights-based legal culture so that law itself can become an important vehicle for creating a more loving and compassionate world. Peter also holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the Wright Institute in Berkeley, is a licensed psychotherapist in California, and seeks to emphasize in all his writings the longing of all human beings for authentic mutual recognition and the importance of spiritually-informed social activism in creating a world in which that longing is more fully realized.
In addition to authoring many articles in law reviews on the relationship between law and social change, Peter has served as Editor-at-Large of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun, a Hebrew word meaning “to heal and repair” (as in tikkun olam: to heal the world), since the magazine’s founding in the mid-1980s. He has written widely for Tikkun on the relationship between the longing for authentic human connection and the need for us to overcome through collective action the legacy of social alienation that disables us from fully seeing each other’s true humanity. He is the author of two books: The Bank Teller and Other Essays on the Politics of Meaning, and the recent Another Way of Seeing: Essays on Transforming Law, Politics, and Culture, which led Cornel West to describe Peter as “one of the grand prophetic voices in our day.”
In addition to his teaching, writing, and work as a leader of New College, Peter has been a community activist throughout his life, always with the aim of putting into practice the kind of spiritually informed social activism envisioned by his writing. In the early 1970s, he served as the first chairperson of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, the first commission to provide for civilian review of complaints against police officers but which also has aspired to building greater trust and understanding between communities and the police who serve them. After moving to San Francisco, he won election to the Democratic County Central Committee, and persuaded the Board of Supervisors to create San Francisco’s Commission on National and Community Service, of which he served as chair. Peter has also been a community leader in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, organizing the community to save its then local bookstore Cover to Cover, and to stand up for workers fired for seeking to form a union at a local health food store. Through Peter’s efforts, Noe Valley neighbors attended each session of the National Labor Relations Board trial in support of the workers’ ultimately successful effort to vindicate their right to organize. And in response to the store’s closure, Peter co-founded the Noe Valley Farmers Market, demonstrating that the community can provide its own healthy food to it residents while supporting local organic farmers and creating a public space that fosters the spirit of community. Now twelve years old, the Noe Valley Farmers Market remains the first all-volunteer-run farmers market in the city, and the only one with an explicit social and political history and purpose.
Today, Peter lives in Noe Valley with his partner Lisa Jaicks, a union organizer with Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers union, and their son Sam, who is 22 and a student and San Francisco State University. In addition to his other work, Peter is president of the Arlene Francis Center for Spirit, Art, and Politics in Santa Rosa, a center created in memory of his mother: the Center’s Mission statement is a summary of Peter’s own life’s work: “the Center produces nonprofit and charitable cultural, educational, social, ethical and ecological activities united by a common purpose—the development of a theory and practice that will foster the creation of a better world, one in which human beings will come to see one another as the source of each other’s completion, as inherently good and caring social and ecological beings who seek to fully recognize each other’s common humanity and interconnectedness with all of life, and to create a world based upon justice, kindness, love, and respect for the earth.”