Revolution#121, February 24, 2008
The Battle of Berkeley:
This War Must Stop
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop.”
—Mario Savio, a leader of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, Sit-in Address on the Steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley, delivered December 2, 1964
“Murder, rape, torture and war, that’s what they’re recruiting for!”
—Chant in Berkeley on February 12
“We’re setting an example for the rest of the county… I’m not really a ‘Berkeley person.’ I’m a ‘we need to stop this’ person.”
—Berkeley High School student,
Two sides faced off in the streets of Berkeley on February 12.
On the one side were over 1,000 people—Berkeley residents against the Iraq War, members of political groups including Code Pink, World Can’t Wait and ANSWER, hundreds of Berkeley High School students, and others. They came into the streets to demand that a Marine recruiting station in downtown Berkeley be shut down and to support the Berkeley City Council’s stand of declaring Marine recruiters “uninvited and unwelcome intruders” in Berkeley.
On the other side were hundreds of right-wing, pro-war people. They had been organized by a group called Move America Forward, whose chairman, Melanie Morgan, is a fascist host on a local radio show. Besides a large number of U.S. and Marine flags, this group also had signs that called Code Pink terrorists and demanded “waterboard the liberals.” Patriotic music blasted while speakers demanded that the Berkeley City Council apologize, that they and all the anti-Iraq War demonstrators be jailed for treason and the key thrown away.
At the end of the day, the City Council capitulated, backing off its initial position. This was very bad, especially given that the initial good stand it took had broken through into the national and international media and that many people who supported this stand against the recruiters had set a courageous example of taking to the streets in militant mass protest to say this war has to stop. At a time when politicians and the media are trying to corral everybody into elections, trying to suffocate protest and dissatisfaction with the message that all you can do is vote—this carved out a path that can actually bring this war to a halt. In the face of the ongoing crimes of this system, in Iraq, in the U.S., and around the world, we need much more of this.
People are determined to carry this battle forward and get the recruiting station out of Berkeley. The day after the council vote, Code Pink and others were out in front of the station. On the Friday after the vote, activists called a “No Business As Usual Day” to shut down the station. Further actions are planned.
Berkeley High Students on the Front Lines
At 5 am the pro-Iraq War side began arriving at a park in front of the City Council chambers to get on the morning news. They were quickly surrounded by anti-war demonstrators who had camped out the night before or arrived even earlier in the morning. The antiwar demonstrators drowned out the chants of the pro-war demonstrators and held up banners and signs with pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib prison.
The youth from Berkeley High School played a tremendous role. They changed the dynamics of the day, galvanized people, raised the level of struggle and put the reactionaries on the political defensive by getting in their face with facts and truth about the war. All day and into the night the students were engaging in debates, wearing orange bandanas, staging die-ins, and riding skateboards past the Marine supporters. Students would challenge the supporters of the war, asking: “Where are the weapons of mass destruction?” “What about the one million dead Iraqis and five million who had to flee their homes?” The main answer the pro-military side had was to personally insult the students, often in a very crude way, or, all too often, resort to physical violence against the teenagers often in the full view of police who did nothing to stop it.
A 15-year-old high school student with the Bay Area Revolution Club was punched in the face by an ex-Marine in full view of the police. He said that he wasn’t intimidated by the attack but that “it gives me more fuel to keep going to put an end to the whole system.”
The youth were on the front lines of the protest all day and subjected to violent police repression. A 13-year-old in the seventh grade was thrown on the ground and handcuffed by police and dragged off to the police station after he argued with a reactionary who got in his face. A 15-year-old was also arrested at the same time for no good reason. A large group of youth followed them to the police station and did a sit-in on the steps until they were pushed off the steps by baton-swinging cops in riot gear. The sister of the arrested 15-year-old was slammed up against the wall of the police station and arrested when she went to find out about him. The students stayed around the police station, yelling at the police and demanding that the arrested youth be freed.
A Berkeley High junior described one police attack: “Out of nowhere, for no reason at all, we weren’t moving forward, the riot police officers just started saying 'Move back! Move back!' and there was nowhere for me to move. The first time I was on my friend’s shoulder and they started night-sticking me in the knees. The second time they just pushed the stick right into my chest and I fell backwards. Another time—to the American anthem, might I add, they pushed one of my friends out of the way and I looked up to see what happened, and the guy pulled me across the shoulders, pulled me back, night-sticked me in the stomach and then grabbed my throat and threw me on the ground and told me to move back more.”
A youth organizer for World Can’t Wait told the City Council, “Today hundreds, if not thousands, of Berkeley High students came out to make their voices heard. Their message was clear: shut it down! They braved police batons and violent pro-war demonstrators who punched a 15-year-old in the nose and spit in another’s face. They reminded me of those courageous students who sat down in the Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960 to stop segregation.”
Marine Recruiting Station Is “Not Welcome”
The controversy began on January 29 when the Berkeley City Council voted to tell the U.S. Marines that its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station “is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders.” In addition, the council voted to explore enforcing its law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against the Marines. And it officially encouraged the women’s peace group Code Pink, which has organized against the recruiting station for many months, to impede the work of the Marines in the city by protesting in front of the station. In a separate action, the council also voted to give Code Pink a designated parking space in front of the recruiting station during its weekly protests and a free sound permit for protesting.
The Berkeley City Council resolution stated that “the U.S. has a history of launching illegal, immoral and unprovoked wars of aggression and the Bush Administration launched the most recent of those wars in Iraq and is threatening to do the same in Iran. These wars have produced catastrophic loss of human life, both civilian and military, as well as physically maiming and deforming and psychologically destroying countless numbers of civilians and military personnel.”
In an editorial attack on the Berkeley City Council’s stand, the San Francisco Chronicle said these were “remarkable statements” that “loaded the deck with insulting language that denigrates the military and embarrasses the anti-war cause.” But every single word of this statement by the City Council is true and important. And the stand the City Council took on January 29 was courageous. They decided to take a risk by confronting, rather than turning away from, the horrors that are being committed by U.S. troops and the U.S. government in Iraq.
Three days later, on February 1, activists with World Can’t Wait chained themselves in front of the door of the recruiting station, shutting it down for several hours before they were arrested.
Right-wing groups and media outlets began to viciously attack the City Council and Code Pink. Melanie Morgan denounced the action as “treasonous, hateful behavior.” U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) said he planned to introduce the Semper Fi Act which would cut off over $2 million in federal funds to the city of Berkeley (including a program that provides school lunches for children) and give the money to the Marines. A Republican State Assemblyman announced that he would introduce a bill to deny Berkeley over $3 million in state road funds.
Many people asked why were the police being so brutal, why were the reactionaries so rabid, why was even the “liberal” mainstream news so nasty, and why were national political leaders all of a sudden concerned about what was happening in Berkeley. This response from those in power comes from the recognition that what was happening did represent a different path—one of determined action on the part of the people towards exposing and stopping the war. And the powers-that-be feared that this kind of thing, if not crushed and put down, could have a wildfire effect. We saw this kind of thing happen in the ’60s—including with the role the struggle in Berkeley played in the development of a nationwide militant, mass anti-war movement.
We need much more of this kind of struggle! As the Bush regime has made clear, even with the great difficulties it has encountered in Iraq, it is determined to persevere in the war, and is even threatening to escalate things with an attack on Iran. And the Democrats are right behind this imperialist agenda—while doing everything they can to suffocate and muzzle anyone and anything that really tries to STOP the war. In the face of this, many people who are against the war and the Bush Regime’s agenda have retreated into passivity—and what amounts to complicity—on the basis that to try to stop this seems too daunting and requires too much sacrifice.
As Bob Avakian wrote: “This is the moral equivalent of coming upon a man brutalizing and raping a woman and not doing everything you can to stop it. You call out strongly ‘Stop!’ But then, when he menacingly turns and responds, ‘No—I really need to do this,’ you simply slink away muttering ‘Oh, I didn’t know he was so determined about this—and I don’t want to get hurt myself.’” [“Refusal to Resist Crimes Against Humanity Is Itself a Crime,” Revolution #109, November 18, 2007]
The Poisonous Role of “Support Our Troops”
The City Council heard public comments on the issue until after midnight. There were many impassioned and deeply thought statements from UC Berkeley students, professionals, business people, Berkeley High students, as well as political activists. Overwhelmingly the comments were in support of the anti-war resolution.
Although the City Council refused to “apologize” as demanded by the pro-war protesters and said that they “strongly opposed the war and the continued recruitment of young people into this war,” they also backed down from their previous position. They said that they “recognize the recruiters’ right to locate in our city.” And they said that they “deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces.”
The new resolution is very bad. The ruling class made it clear that the Council’s initial stand would not be tolerated, that it had exceeded the limits of what is allowed and proper in bourgeois politics. The Council’s new position substitutes relatively meaningless opposition to the war for a clear-cut stand against the recruiters which could have been part of shutting down the recruitment center and setting a national example.
To a great degree the pro-war forces were able to set the terms around supporting the troops and free speech—when the real issue is the unjust imperialist nature of the war—and this played a role in confusing and paralyzing people.
Even in its “anti-war” garb of “support the troops, but not the war,” the “Support the Troops” slogan is chauvinist, immoral, and leads to supporting the war (see Why You Can’t Support the U.S. Troops). Every day, U.S. Marines are kicking down people’s doors in Iraq, murdering people at checkpoints, dropping bombs on villages in Afghanistan, and much more. How can you “deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces” and at the same time support the Iraqi or Afghani people they are killing? This makes about as much sense as saying you “support the rapist and not the rape.” In this case it led the City Council and others to back down from their position that the Marine recruiters are unwelcome intruders and should leave Berkeley.
As for the Marines’ “free speech,” how can you support the “right” of the Marines to recruit people to fight an unjust, immoral war for empire in Iraq and support the right of the Iraqi people to be free of that oppression? The same argument was raised when people fought against segregation in the 1960s: racists argued for the “right” of the lunch counter at Woolworth’s to serve only white people. In Nazi Germany would you have said that it was wrong to interfere with the recruiting of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces)?
Reality Check: The U.S. military has millions of dollars at their disposal to lie to the youth through advertisements that make war seem like a video game. It is actually our speech—the voices that oppose this criminal war—that are being marginalized and shut out by the corporate media, monitored by government surveillance, and threatened with state repression.
Shut It Down!
In the wake of the national controversy and the City Council decision, World Can’t Wait announced plans to shut down the military recruiting station in Berkeley on February 15. Prominent activists from World Can’t Wait, Code Pink, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, Veterans for Peace and religious communities were scheduled to engage in civil disobedience to shut down the station. However, the Marines decided not to open their office after driving by and seeing signs and banners decorating the recruitment center and about 100 people, including many Berkeley High School students, outside. Later in the afternoon, after the recruiting center had been closed almost the whole day, a squad of Berkeley cops marched up to the center in riot gear, knocking people down and pushing people and the protest signs and other material into the street.
Not being satisfied with the Berkeley City Council retracting their initial statement, Senator DeMint and other Senators announced they would continue to push the Semper Fi Act to deny federal money to Berkeley. This is something to learn from too. In the final analysis these people will demand complete and utter capitulation. Anything less will not be allowed.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) rushed to the Senate chamber to oppose cutting off funds to Berkeley. Here’s what she said: “Why on Earth would we punish good, decent citizens because some members of their local government … say something that’s highly offensive?” Boxer’s response—calling the City Council’s position “highly offensive”—shows what class interests these Democrats are coming from, that they’re for the interests of imperialism, including its army and the need for it to enforce U.S. domination around the world.
If we want the war in Iraq, or any other of the crimes of this system to stop, we—millions and millions of us—need to stand up and stop them. The actions in Berkeley—of boldly and urgently standing up and saying “THIS MUST HALT!” have shown how to burst out of the suffocating confines of politics as usual. Such actions must be defended and spread. This issue of Revolution should be taken to high schools all over and people should spread the word and join actions being planned for March 19 by World Can’t Wait (see World Can’t Wait website: www.worldcantwait.org) and others on the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War.
People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.
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