Demonstrators Get Space to Protest

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday January 29, 2008

Posted Wed., Jan. 30—The question of dedicating space—a parking space—for Code Pink’s weekly demonstrations in front of the downtown Berkeley Marine Recruiting Center (MRC) raised hackles at Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting, when Councilmember Gordon Wozniak likened the demonstrations there to protests at abortion clinics. 

“There’s a line between protesting and harassing,” Wozniak said, referring to possible harassment of recruits. 

Wozniak was the lone vote in opposition to a resolution authored by Councilmembers Linda Maio and Max Anderson designating a parking space in front of the recruiting center for the demonstrators from noon to 4 p.m. every Wednesday for six months. 

The dedicated parking space “is showing favoritism to one side of the argument,” Wozniak said, adding, “My concern is giving a parking space in front of the Marine Recruiting Center seems confrontational.” 

While Dori Schmidt, whose husband owns The Berkeley Review, a test preparation business above the MRC, told the council that the demonstrations disrupt the business with their noise, other public speakers supported the parking space designation. 

“It’s not favoritism,” said PhoeBe Sorgen, a member of Code Pink and the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee. Rather, it’s following the Berkeley “tradition to stand up for peace,” she said. 

Bob Meola, a veteran who has staffed hot lines for military personnel trying to leave the service, told the council that use of the parking space will help the demonstrators deliver the truth to possible recruits.  

“People get lied to. They don’t get the jobs and training” they’re told they will get, Meola said. “It’s a community service to warn youth about the criminal liars.” 

Anderson spoke as a former Marine who had protested the Vietnam War, addressing the unfair advantage of the Marines that have “millions of dollars at their disposal to bombard the nation with propaganda.” 

Councilmember Betty Olds, who originally intended vote against the resolution, said she changed her mind, especially listening to one of the speakers who is a 90-year-old peace activist. Olds said it would have been hypocritical of her to oppose the resolution, since she, like many others in Berkeley, “found a psychiatrist who said their kids were all crazy to get them out of the [Vietnam] war.” 

Olds added, “The Marines ought to have had the sense not to come here.” 

The council also went on record calling on the governor to withdraw the California National Guard from Iraq, asking Congress to reaffirm the existence of the Armenian Genocide and adopting a policy, where practical, to cease purchases form Chevron Corp. They also raised meter parking fees from $1 to $1.25 per hour, made Berkeley a sanctuary for medical cannabis users and dispensaries and approved both the city manager and Police Review Commission reports on prevention of criminal activity by police.