Hundreds of protestors for and against Berkeley City Council‘s resolution urging the U.S. Marine Corps to shut its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station are facing off today outside City Hall, a button-pushing bonanza as both sides try to get under each other’s skin.
I arrived around 10:15 a.m. and left shortly after 1 p.m.; when I left, nobody had been hurt or arrested, although there had been a few nose-to-nose moments that looked dicey until riot-gear-clad Berkeley Police officers insinuated themselves in between.
(All photos by Alison Yin/Oakland Tribune)
Early on, the protestors faced each other across Martin Luther King Jr. Way, with the CodePink, World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime, and other anti-military protestors in front of City Hall and the pro-Marines protestors — many of them organized by Move America Forward — in MLK Jr. Memorial Park. Chants dueled back and forth across the street — “Shame on Berkeley!” vs. “Shame on Bush” — as cars passed between, honking their horns in support of one side or the other.
Each side had an enormous U.S. flag hanging on its side of the street; the pro-ban side’s flag, however, had its stars re-arranged into a peace symbol.
Among the signs people carried (see if you can guess which side of the street they were on): “All recruiters lie — if they told the truth, no one would enlist;” “City Council supports our troops with contempt;” “You can’t attend college in a body bag;” “Boycott Berkeley for bashing our boys.”
Things got tenser as the pro-ban crowd crossed to the pro-Marines side of the street, but in a few places — despite some shouted profanities and enough rhetoric to choke a debate club — actual dialogue occurred. Read more about it after the jump…
CodePink cofounder Medea Benjamin and some of her pink-clad cohorts were first to cross at about 11:35 a.m., carrying a banner and posing for photos with fingers raised in Vs as a peace salute. Police formed a line behind them, and on the other side stood several pro-Marines protestors carrying flags; two of them each raised a single digit in a different kind of salute, before switching to a thumbs-down gesture.
By 11:50 a.m., a crowd of skateboard-toting, orange-World-Can’t-Wait-bandanna-wearing teens had gathered on the pro-Marines side of the street, chanting antiwar slogans. “You’re kids, you’re not even taxpaters, you can’t vote — you’ve got nothing,” a pro-Marine protestor shouted back.
Around noon the teen crowd — probably straight out of Berkeley High School just across the street — swelled suddenly to at least 200. “Whose park? OUR PARK!” they shouted.
“Go back to school, take some history lessons,” came a reply.
Berkeley Police forced the surging teen crowd back, pushing with batons; “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” some shouted, as others circled around the park’s eastern swath to come face-to-face with the pro-Marines people — lots of shouting and finger-pointing, but no violence, and police quickly snaked their way between the two camps again. And back and forth across the park it went, several times over the following hour. In pockets, however, people explained their views to each other and — while not finding much common ground — hopefully came away wiser for it.
Here are a few excerpts of what I heard:
“We do support the troops but we do not support an illegal war… This (military) system is sucking young men and women in, and it is using and abusing them.” — Retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright, 60, now an antiwar activist
“Without our Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy, National Guard, Reserves and Coast Guard, the terrorists will win. I am for America, and Berkeley has overstepped its bounds… These people don’t have a clue about courage, it’s shocking and shameful. And I don’t want one cent of my taxpayer dollars to go for anything for Berkeley… Berkeley needs to be taught a lesson, the rest of the world doesn’t care how fruity they are.” — Lisa Disbrow, 56, a Moraga schoolteacher
“This isn’t about the Marine recruiters’ free speech; they have billions of dollars with which to lie to youth.” — World Can’t Wait youth organizer Giovanni Jackson, 26, of Berkeley
“I was appalled, it’s ridiculous… If anybody wants to join the Marine Corps of their own free will, let ’em do it. I signed on the dotted line… I wouldn’t trade that for anything, I’m a better person because of it.” — former U.S.M.C. Sgt. Eamon Kelly, 24, of Alameda
“The citizens’ speech has already been repressed when the Marines moved into Berkeley without asking us.” — attorney Sharon Adams, author of a zoning-code amendment initiative that would restrict the location of military recruitment centers
“I’m just wondering what teacher brought them (Berkeley students) down here… We don’t even teach about any of our wars in school any more, so how would they know? But we did fight to give them that freedom.” — Veterans of Foreign Wars state commander David Norris of Tracy
“Nancy Pelosi had the power to end the funding for this war and she didn’t,” putting her among government enablers “who proclaim that they are for peace but will not stand for peace. These people need backbone, they need courage, and they’re going to get it from you.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of the Tikkun community and cofounder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives
“The crowd here for years has been telling our troops they don’t belong in Iraq. Now they have the gall to tell them they don’t belong in America? … They (the troops) are honorable, they’re noble, they’re professional, and to see them attacked this way is appalling.” — Gold Star Mom Debbie Lee of Surprise, Ariz., whose son, Navy SEAL Marc Alan Lee, was killed in Iraq on Aug. 6, 2006
“I wish somebody had cared enough about me to tell me the other side of the story before I joined the Marine Corps.” — USMC veteran Jeff Patterson
“I think the citizens have a right to go into the Marines if they choose to.” — a 14-year-old Berkeley High School student
“Now the whole world is going to be watching what’s happening here in Berkeley… Let’s show the rest of the country how Berkeley we can be, how loving we can be.” — Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Global Exchange and CodePink Women for Peace