Organized by KSFO radio personality Melanie Morgan, chair of Move America Forward, pro-war, anti-Islamic and anti-immigration demonstrators converged on the Berkeley Recruiting Center Wednesday, caravaning into town with their SUVs and Harleys decked out in American flags to face off with Code Pink, the anti-war group that has held vigils in front of the 64 Shattuck Square Marine Recruitment Office for three weeks.
The mostly female demonstrators from Code Pink and their allies—Veterans for Peace, International Answer, Sing for Peace, the World Can’t Wait, Berkeley High students, the Ecumenical Peace Institute, Women in Black—mustered around 125 demonstrators, but their message spoken into handheld bullhorns was sometimes drowned out by the pro-war side’s superior sound system; the 250 or so mostly male counter-demonstrators clearly outnumbered Code Pink’s participants.
The pro-war counter-demonstrators came from as far as Santa Rosa and as close as the UC Berkeley campus; they represented groups including the American Legion, the Gathering of Eagles, Eagles Up and the UC Berkeley College Republicans.
When the pro-war side sang “God Bless America,” the anti-war people sang, “God Save America.” The pro-warriors called the protesters “commies” and the pro-peace folks called the counter-demonstrators “killers.” The pro-war people shouted “USA” and the anti-war people called out in response: “Out of Iraq.”
As the crowd grew, the rhetoric of the two sides escalated, and some minor shoving ensued. Berkeley police separated the pro- and anti-war demonstrators, with the pro-war side, which held permits, allowed to remain on the west side of the street in front of the recruiting office and the anti-war side, which held no permits, guided firmly across the street.
There were no arrests, but one demonstrator with The World Can’t Wait was cited for “throwing a flaming/glowing substance on public property,” according to Berkeley Police spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, who further explained in an e-mail to the Planet that the demonstrator had burned a flag.
One young man, who did not want to be identified, was yelling “Code Pink traitors,” along with a group of counter-demonstrators. Asked what he meant, he told the Planet that it was “because Code Pink is against what our country’s trying to do—to get freedom for people.”
Nearby, Dan Baptista also supported the war. “We left in the first Gulf War without finishing the job,” he said. “If we don’t finish it, we’ll have to go back again in 10 years.”
Several counter-demonstrators told the Daily Planet that the war in Iraq was necessary, because it was part of an ongoing fight against what they called “Islamo-fascism.”
“Most the country doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on with militant Islam,” said counter-protester Robert Graves. “No one’s successfully negotiated with militant Islam, ever ... You’re going to have to conquer them. Otherwise we’re going to be like Israel, having someone constantly blowing us up. You need to put them on their heels to begin with, and then you have to civilize them, because they’re not civilized.”
Across the street, Dennis Riley, a Vietnam vet with Veterans for Peace, said he had been in a fighter wing that bombed North Vietnam and Laos and hoped to stop other young people from joining the military.
“The four years I served were the most shameful years of my life,” he said. “I don’t want to be thanked. Everything I did was wrong.”
Berkeley High ninth-graders Niale Alimason and Nashla Acevado came to the protest during their lunch hour. “I support the peace,” Alimason told the Daily Planet. “Bush doesn’t care what we think.”
“I think the war is wrong, and they should stop it,” Acevado added.
Judy Christopher of Code Pink had brought her baby to the demonstration. “As a mother, I don’t want my son to grow up to kill people,” she said.
As the demonstration wound down, Code Pink organizer Zanne Joi said she thought it had been a success. She took credit for the office not opening at all on Wednesday.
“We’ve shut down the recruiting office,” she said.