The scene at the Berkeley Marine protest

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.

o12mari6.jpgBy 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.

o12mari3.jpgBerkeley 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

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Patriotic Citizen

    The person who wrote the language calling the Marines “uninvited intruders” is Elliot Cohen of the Peace and Justice Commission, P.O. Box 851, Berkeley, CA 94701, (510) 594-4088. He was appointed to the commission by Karen Hemphill, Director, Board of Education, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704, (510) 644-6550, karen_hemphill@berkeley.k12.ca.us

  • Very nice reporting. I cannot tell which side of this protest you are on, which is a credit to your writing. Great job. Keep up the good work, and maybe someday when you start your writing career we will finally have an outlet that gives the NEWS (versus their opinions). Are you going to have updates? Please let me know so I may give you credit. (Yes, I’m going to trackback to you.)

  • Josh Richman

    Thanks, Rosemary! Actually, I’ve been here at the Tribune for more than a decade, and elsewhere before that, so my writing career is pretty well under way — but I appreciate the sentiment. Check http://www.oaklandtribune.com for breaking coverage of the Berkeley situation.

  • Thank you. You sure are a delight to read. Will it be alright with you if I add you to my sidebar? It is refreshing to read facts, just the facts ma’am. lol. I had begun to think it was a lost art. (Yes, it is an art. One that I admire.) Have a wonderful evening. 😉

  • Van

    Over 1 million Iraqis have died because of our invasion, and it’s the *MARINES* who want an apology, and keep complaining about their hurt feelings? I’m utterly baffled.

    Source: http://www.opinion.co.uk/Newsroom_details.aspx?NewsId=88

  • Berkeley Marine Sanctuary

    Thank you for a really good, balanced article on Tuesday’s madness. I am truly disappointed in the high school kids, and have been trying to re-find a piece of video where one of the WCW organizers talks about how easy it is to get student support by giving out free t-shirts and scarves and what a great PR thing it is…he said there was nothing cooler than a skateboarder in a scarf.

    As a Berkeley High parent it saddens but doesn’t surprise me that the kids were such “sheep” on Tuesday. My son and his friends were referred to by someone in Code PINK as “short-haired, para-military youth”. I realized later that she thought she was being magnanimous and open minded, because she didn’t come right out and accuse them of being neo-Nazi skinheads (which they’re not). The confusing thing is that Berkeley kids rebel against authority — and that makes them just what their parents want them to be.

  • Berkeley Marine Sanctuary

    I forgot to clarify that my son and his friends are the few, the proud… they are supporters of the USMC Officer Selection Office staying put in Berkeley where it belongs. Conservative kids are truly radical, by local standards.

  • Cynthia Morse

    Dear Berkeley Marine Sanctuary,

    I think it is probably your son and his friends that I have met both at the USMC Officer Selection Office and at the February 12 protest. I am not a Code Pink member, but I am an activist who does not want young people to join the military. It’s a great sadness to me that knowledge of the pain and devastation of war, which I learned a long time ago, has to be relearned every generation.

    I am there because I don’t want them to experience the nightmare of combat, be severely and permanently injured, or killed (permanent as well)– in an illegal and exceptionally ugly war of occupation. I think if you consider for a minute, you’ll realize you don’t want that for your son either.

    It is good to see young people such as that group caring about issues larger than themselves. You have taught that principle well. I suggest that you also teach that political differences are not license for derision, rudeness, name-calling, interrupting, and loud rhetoric in a face-to-face conversation.

    My grandchildren are their ages. One of my sons is an officer who only very recently returned from deployment. I am there because I care about their lives. I deserve the same courtesy that I extend.

    It’s a great sadness to me that knowledge of the pain and devastation of war, which I learned a long time ago, has to be relearned every generation. That is why I do what I do. Your son and his friends don’t have to agree with me, and neither do you, but you do need to teach them how to behave.



  • Berkeley Marine Sanctuary

    Cynthia Morse: You have not met my son. Since this all began in late September he has made it his quest not to behave in an undignified or abusive manner to anyone associated with the entire protest — unless he is severely provoked. You don’t sound like a provocative person. If you are who I think you are I’ve actually spoken with you in front of the USMC Office, myself, and found you rational and well-intentioned. I’m sorry anyone has mistreated you.

    My son’s affect is cheerful and he tries to ask good questions. At one point he admitted he enjoys doing so because the Pink Ladies are so taken aback by courtesy; the responsibility is then theirs to respond with real answers, not sound bites.

    As you know, having stood close enough to the Code PINK regulars to have been mistaken for one, real answers are not easily obtained from them. Most of them mean well, of course, and my son and I wish them no harm.

    One side-effect of the WCW protests has been to make Code PINK look reasonable again. Pity it came to that.

  • It’s a shame that most college kids (past and present)have often been so concerned and preoccupied with finding and establishing their OWN identity that they rarely balance it with their “sense of community.” As a result, it seems that students are amongst the most easily swayed by “mob mentality” and often fail to grasp what it is they’re protesting against (or for)in the first place. What we never hear about is the amount of this there was in the “salad days” of Bay Area protests: the 60’s-70’s. Are we to assume that ALL the protesters and activists of yesteryear were informed and involved to a higher degree than those of today? I find it hard to believe that the same; simple-minded, “protest for the sake of protesting,” outlook was so absent from the sit-ins and demonstrations of the flower power generation. Yet time and time again we hear about how today’s kids are just disenfranchised and hopping on the proverbial bandwagon. Whereas the infallible peace and love movements of the Summers of Love were 100% pure and and real, and devoid of pretense or ignorance or falseness. I think a more relevant factor would be the increasing rate of cynicism and pessimism that oozes through every inch of our society these days.(This post included) Love seems to have become a pathetic institution these days, whilst instilling fear has become admirable, and reasonable compromises seem as passe as the fashions of those who preached their necessity. Is it any wonder then, that our youth feels even more pressure to be heard and understood, rather than being labeled as fanatics, bleeding-hearts, or even worse… FAKES and POSEURS?
    Where do these adults who traded in their bellbottoms for Dockers Khakis and Starbucks get off calling the youth of today disloyal and apathetic? Oh yeah, they’ve been doing it for decades, as we will in time. It’s just a whole lot louder and more common now that the internet has brought out whole planet within an earshit. Erm… EarSHOT. Very little has changed in the nutritional content of life, it all just tastes different.

  • Just the Facts Lady

    Citizens should bring a class action lawsuit against the People’s Republic of Berkley. If they are not allowing recruitment in their town, and harassing our military, that negatively impacts our military readiness, and is costing us in both money and security. Proof of the security costs can already be seen in the bombing of the Times Square recruiting station.

    Also, Congress should cut off all federal funding to the town, and any other city, university or organization which opposes the legal recruitment of US citizens into the US military. US citizens need to remind our Congress of their duties assigned them by the Constitution and insist that they fulfill those duties:
    Reminder #1 Our Constitution:
    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    The Constitution lists as a role of the federal government to insure domestic tranquility:
    “One of the concerns of the Framers was that the government prior to that under the Constitution was unable, by force or persuasion, to quell rebellion or quarrels amongst the states… One of the main goals of the Convention, then, was to ensure the federal government had powers to squash rebellion and to smooth tensions between states.” http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am10

    Reminder #2 Article. I, Section 8 – Powers of Congress
    “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
    To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
    To provide and maintain a Navy;
    To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
    To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions…”
    Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the Constitutional authority to provide for the common defense, which means that defense is defense of everyone, not just some. Whether Berkley likes it or not, the military is serving for the defense of their town as much as any other American community. Therefore, Berkely has a vested interest in the military and must suppport it as every other community does. Article 1, Section 8 gives the federal government he power to raise and support the military uniformally throughout the United States, in other words, all payment of debts, taxes and support for defense are to be uniform throughout the US. Support for defense would include the authority to recruit military members from all communities.
    Article 1, Section 8 also gives the Federal Government the authority to suppress the insurrection of a state, which means when a state (or a community within a state,) is not abiding by the rules of law, or usurping the powers of the federal government the federal government has the Constitutional authority to intervene. The Preamble states that the Federal Government will insure domestic Tranquility and provide for the common defense.
    Contact your Congressional representatives and remind them of their Constitutional duty to support the military and suppress this insurrection in California. If you don’t know who your congressmen are, or how to contact them, you can easily find them by visiting: http://www.congressmerge.com/onlinedb/index.htm

  • Berkeley Marine Sanctuary

    Wow, thank you for the above statement. I’m always pleased to have facts to point to when debating what many feel is an emotional issue.

    May I copy your post to give to my son and his friends? They, in turn, might use it in discussion with Code PINK at the USMC Office. You can contact me at berkeleymarinesanctuary@yahoo.com to discuss this further, if you wish.

  • The Soldier of Detroit

    I think think that every is entityled to thief opion about the war but that dosent mean you can blame the US military we do nonthing when it comes to making decsiins for war and we do recruit for war just defense