Last week’s flap over red, white and blue ribbons had critics calling UC Berkeley unpatriotic. This week, however, university administrators and students put the name-calling behind them and hoped Wednesday’s commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks would be free of politics.
Not a chance.
While a solemn moment of silence and a handful of poignant stories about Sept. 11 made their mark on the university’s central commemorative event at Sproul Plaza, a series of political speeches and the color of commemorative ribbons generated the most reaction.
The ribbon war began last week when UC Berkeley’s conservative student newspaper published an article about university plans to distribute white ribbons, rather than red, white and blue, so as not to offend or exclude anyone.
After national news outlets picked up the story, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl attacked the piece in the campus journal, defended campus patriotism, and said his office would pay for red, white and blue ribbons.
At Wednesday’s commemoration, dozens of students attached the red, white and blue ribbons to their shirts and backpacks.
“I’m proud to be an American and I think it’s appropriate to wear red, white and blue,” said Jesse Gabriel, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, the undergraduate student government.
But a group of about 20 students clad in black displayed white ribbons instead and emphasized that they were mourning the loss not only of the Sept. 11 victims, but of the Afghan civilians who lost their lives in the subsequent war against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
“People who suffered on the day of Sept. 11, or as a result of Sept. 11, in the aftermath, weren’t all U.S. citizens,” said ASUC Sen. Mary Boktor.
Several students scoffed at the controversy, arguing that the campus journal had distorted the story and politicized an event that should not have been political.
But Seth Norman, managing editor of the journal, California Patriot, said the story was accurate.
“We stand behind the reporting 100 percent,” he said.
Defenders of the article added that the student newspaper cannot be blamed for the spread of the story to other outlets.
The politics of Sept. 11 and its aftermath were also on display in a series of speeches that 12 students, chosen by the university, gave on Sproul Plaza.
Joshua Braver, a freshman, warned that politics since Sept. 11 have taken a “jingoistic turn,” while graduate student Snehal Shingavi criticized President George W. Bush, who is expected to make a speech before the United Nations today calling for decisive action against Iraq in an ongoing war on terrorism.
“Today will be a day of reflection and thoughtfulness,” Shingavi said. “Tomorrow, unfortunately, will be day of war.”
Bret Manley, president of the College Republicans, took a different tack in his speech, focusing on the impact Sept. 11 had on bringing the nation together.
“For the first time in my life, we were more than citizens, we were a nation,” he said.
Manley criticized students who made overtly political speeches.
“I thought those were absolutely inappropriate,” he said. “I almost look at it as a funeral service. You don’t go to a funeral service and talk about war.”
The day was not focused on politics alone. In the morning, a group of about 40 people from many different faiths gathered in a “circle of remembrance” sponsored by the University Religious Council to share their reflections on Sept. 11.
Shortly thereafter, scholars at the International House released a group of doves as a symbol of peace.
A candlelight vigil was planned for Wednesday night.