FREEDOM ROCKS IN BERKELEY
After going by the demonstration and counter-demonstration in Berkeley today, I am pleased to report that there is still hope for the republic. There was lots of furious rhetoric, but for the most part people were remarkably calm and well behaved. And while the main groups were on opposite sides of the street, people from both sides circulated without being hassled. The closest I saw to problems was one veteran who attacked a girl speaking about the injustices suffered by native Americans. He got no further than kicking her bike before other veterans intervened and calmed him down. It was nice to see.
There were a thousand or more people there. And probably every cop in Berkeley. The cops were looking both bored and annoyed. I felt for them, I’ve done security before, any shift where one is on one’s feet all day gets real old real fast. And their uniforms looked hot and it was a sunny day. At least this wasn’t like the sixties where the crowds were hassling the cops, they had to be thankful for that. I suppose some of them did look like they’d like to bash a few heads, but no heads were bashed that I know of.
Both sides were well represented in the crowd. In fact I was surprised that the folklore about peace protesters all being old hippies simply wasn’t true, if anything young people were far more common in the antiwar crowd than the support-the-troops crowd. In fact an awful lot of the support-the-troops crowd appeared to be old bikers and old veterans and what not from out of town. And it was clear that a good percentage of the crowd were just there out of curiosity. And every news van in the Bay Area was there, in fact newspeople were so ubiquitous that they were having trouble finding people who were willing to be interviewed!
Lots of flags, again mostly on the support-the-troops side. Oddly enough the antiwar crowd seemed to be more organized, superficially one might think the veterans would be more organized, but their crowd was far more ad hoc than the peace groups. Many of them have been protesting together for years, no doubt that explains why they were more organized. The support-the-troops side had a bigger sound system though. The antiwar crowd had more and better signs and visual aids, but relied on bullhorns rather than a sound system. Yes, it was quite the scene.
My favourite sign said “I couldn’t afford a real sign.” Yes, not everyone was taking sides. There was me for example, I was wearing my camouflaged marine cap (yes, I know, a hat is a “cover” in Marine Corps parlance.) On it I had my “It’s Been Fun But I Must Return To The Mother Ship Now” button. I got a few funny looks, but nobody really knew what to make of me. Which was kind of the point, I had sympathy for points both sides were making, and didn’t want to be seen as partisan.
In any event I didn’t stay for the city council meeting, but alls well that ends well. They voted to rescind their letter of a few weeks back, and while they did not formally apologize to the Marines, most council members and the major agreed the letter was a mistake, and that the city council should pass resolutions opposing the war, not opposing the Marine Corps. And the council did say they owned service people an apology. That’s good enough for me and I am going to guess it will be good enough for all but extremists. I can think of other politicians who have never admitted any mistakes, but I digress.
Code Pink is now going to try to get an initiative on the ballot for the next election condemning the Marine Corps and asking them to leave Berkeley. Which is what they should have done in the first place, instead of trying to pull an end run by pressuring the city council in the first place. I don’t think it will pass, but hey, that’s what democracy is all about. Put it to a vote.
According to the news there were a few scuffles and misdemeanour arrests, and I guess a flag was burned…damaging two bicycles. Several of the media reports I have seen exaggerated the few minor problems there were and the negative attitudes expressed. Heck, the media would have been thrilled if there had a been a riot, I’m pretty sure it cost a lot of money to fly those news helicopters overhead (there were three at one point) and a peaceful crowd of 2000 people can’t have been a very exciting shot. All in all though I can only say I was impressed by how the vast majority of people on both sides of the issue comported themselves, and if TV news showed people screaming at each other, those incidents were the exception, not the rule.
Freedom of speech rocks, seeing it in person made me proud of my city, my country, and the military men and women who serve it.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it is central to illustrating the post. It is also a low resolution version of the original image and its use here in no way detracts with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image, arguably the opposite. Credit: Chronicle/Kim Komenich. The building in the background is Berkeley’s old city hall, built in 1909. And no, I do not appear to be in any media pictures I have seen, but there will be other demonstrations.)