Page One

City Lets Protesters Have Their Own (Parking) Space

By Judith Scherr
Friday February 01, 2008

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 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 opposing 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.  

He added, “My concern is giving a parking space in front of the Marine Recruiting Center seems confrontational.” 

Move America Forward, which calls itself “the nation’s largest grassroots pro-troop organization,” weighed in on the question in a press statement issued Wednesday:  

“It is disgraceful that in the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, anti-military activists would attempt to silence the same military men and women who serve this country and give their lives to protect the free speech rights of all Americans, including these ungrateful and despicable people on the Berkeley City Council,” said KSFO talk-show host Melanie Morgan, Move America Forward chair, quoted in the statement. 

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. All the other public speakers, however, 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 to vote against the resolution, said she changed her mind after listening to one of the speakers, 90-year-old peace activist Fran Rachel. 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.” 

Earlier, at the Tuesday night meeting, the council passed a tri-part resolution from the Peace and Justice Commission 7-2 and 6-3 condemning the military presence in Berkeley. 

Olds and Wozniak opposed all three sections of the resolution: one clause asked the city attorney to consider whether the city can enforce a local anti-discrimination law on the basis that the military discriminates against people who are openly gay and lesbian; another clause praised the work of demonstrators who try to impede the work of the recruiters through nonviolent means. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington joined Olds and Wozniak opposing the third clause of the resolution that asked the city manager to write to the marines, telling them that the recruiting office is not welcome in Berkeley “and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders.” 

Worthington told the Planet that, while he is a peace activist, he opposed this clause because “we need to be respectful of veterans.” He added, “It is important to build coalitions.” 

“This is pretty bad,” Councilmember Betty Olds said at the council meeting, commenting on the resolution. “I’m going to vote no—they serve a purpose of giving jobs to people without other opportunities.”