Friday, February 15, 2008

Report from Berkeley

I was at the Berkeley recruitment center event on the 11th and 12th. The Berkeley city council had drafted a letter telling the Marine recruiters they weren't welcome in that town and gave Code Pink a free parking space in front of the center to hold their protests. Code Pink activists are currently gathering signatures to zone the recruitment center out of town.

Of course, plenty of folks aren't happy with this, and right-wing radio tools are rallying their ever-faithful listeners to come to the "defense" of the Marines. Republicans in Washington have drafted a bill, the "Semper Fi" bill, to punish Berkeley for this "snub" by the city council, which would take away $2 million of Federal money from the city and give it to the Marines. As if the Marines don't have enough of a budget already (how about this, Congress? Take away *Blackwater's* entire budget and give it to the Marines. That's a measure I'd support!)

So "Move America Forward" lined up on one side of the street and Code Pink and World Can't Wait lined up on the other -- in front of City Hall. Kitty-corner to the town hall, across the street from the pro-recruiter people, is a high school. Talk about a recipe for trouble! It seemed like everyone in MAF had a huge flag. They strung the biggest one -- the size of a small room -- over the park like the backdrop of the movie "Patton" (it even had 48 stars!). They played stuff like Toby Keith and the star-spangled banner over a booming sound system. They even had a plane fly over trailing the words "Semper Fi." Meanwhile, we had genuine folk singers (like Betsy Rose), accoustic guitars and a banjo, and sang songs ourselves, like "This Land is Your Land." Later on kids danced around on unicycles and a 9-11 truth girl did a fire dance (which the police quickly had her put out).

About 50 kids walked out of class and joined the World Can't Wait contingent, then marched and skateboarded and basically invaded the "Move America Forward" crowd, mocking them with their picket signs. This was hours after both sides had been calling each other out on opposite sides of the streets, and one of the main orgainzers of the MAF crowd (Melanie Morgan?) called the Code Pink supporters "traitors" and said we ought to be locked up in FEMA camps. At any rate, a 12 and a 14 year-old were arested stemming from this event.

Later, while I was lining the street holding an American flag and flashing a peace sign (much to the chagrin of the flag-happy MAF crowd), the guy next to me chided the Move America Forward people for being "good Germans." Not long after this a *really* big guy from across the street came up behind us, mad as hell, saying something like, "Okay buddy, I'm right here. You call me a Nazi to my face!" The guy, who was from a holocaust family, was genuinely hurt and upset. It turns out the guy next to me was from a holocaust family as well. I've never seen two men come closer to blows without actually throwing a punch, and believe me, that would have been an ugly scene. The recruitment supporter was a beefy guy about 6'5" and he was surrounded by a smattering of cocky young kids with ready access to wooden picket signs, all in the midst of dozens of senior and middle-aged women and men, with a baby carriage thrown in for good measure. There were no cops in the (immediate) vacinity. Fortunately there *were* some very sensible, powerfully peaceful women who were able to de-escalate the conflict ... but dang! That was one tense moment.

Things got hairy again after tge MAF crowd took it upon themselves to march across the street to confront us andagain, where were the police? So for about 15 minutes Code Pink supporters and the MAF crowd were intermingling with each other -- I think it's a minor miracle the situation didn't explode into a riot.

The police finally came and separated the two camps and the gorgeous and surreal day was followed by a chaotically fascinating night. I think both sides learned something profound -- that it's possible for people with very different viewpoints to come together and work out their grievances with a dialogue. You can't imagine how much hope that inspires in me.

A riot in Berkeley would have been a NeoCon puppetmaster's wet dream. But it turns out the America I believe in is still here, with We the People.

No comments: