Posted Wed., Feb. 13—After being called “idiots,” thanked profusely, had their manners upbraided, told, during a three-hour public hearing they were unpatriotic and true patriots, the Berkeley City Council softened rhetoric of a Jan. 29 council item that would have had staff write the Marines, telling them their recruiters are “uninvited and unwelcome” in Berkeley.
The council voted 7-2 to publicly recognize the right of recruiters to be in Berkeley, while underscoring opposition to the “illegal and unjust” Iraq war and differentiating between that opposition and those who are members of the military. Hills area Councilmembers Betty Olds and Gordon Wozniak voted in opposition.
After debate that extended past 1 a.m. Wednesday, the council declined to issue a formal apology to the Marines or to back down on its support for legal protests at the downtown Marine Recruiting Center.
The vote come after 24 hours of demonstrations that began in celebratory style with a camp-out that included spirited singing and salsa dancing as well as serious talk of war and peace among some 40 anti-war protesters, mostly from Code Pink, the World Can’t Wait, Veteran’s Against the War and Courage to Resist.
Dressed in army fatigues, former Marine Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist, a group that helps military personnel leave the armed forces, was preparing to spend the night out. A sign he propped up was directed to the Canadian government: “Dear Canada, Let U.S. war resistors stay.”
“I’m out here to support people that are protesting military recruiting in our communities, Paterson told the Daily Planet. “I believe if people are going to join the military, they should know the other side of the story. I wish somebody had told me the other side of the story before I joined.”
The protests Monday night and Tuesday had been sparked by conservative Move America Forward’s reaction to the Berkeley City Council support for protesters and their call for pro-military allies to descend on Berkeley on Tuesday.
At 5 a.m. Tuesday, across the street from the camp-out at Civic Center Park, Move America Forward began its demonstration with about three-dozen pro-military individuals.
Among them was Lisa Disbrow from Moraga, a Blue Star Mom and member of the Lafayette flag brigade. She told the Planet her son is an army officer “dedicated to peace.”
“Our army, Navy, Air Force, Marines are volunteers who willingly stand in defense of this nation and every living American and we owe them the honor that the city of Berkeley has taken away,” she said. “The city of Berkeley is actually harassing the Marines in an effort to look as though they’re in support of peace. They’re not in support of peace. They’re actually in support of terrorists.”
Move America Forward allies gave interviews and talked among themselves until, at around 5:45 a.m., some two dozen people affiliated with ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) squared off with verbal matches that would characterize the rest of the day and night.
Soon people from the camp across the street joined those at Civic Center Park, with Code Pink allies often inserting themselves between individuals shouting at one another, as was the case when Scott Conover, who had lost a son in Iraq was screaming at a anti-war demonstrator carrying the picture of a person who had been tortured in Iraq.
Police estimate that the crowd grew to around 2,000 at its height and reported misdemeanor arrests of four individuals: two juveniles and two adults.
There were several scuffles between protesters and police during the day. One of the most notable came after the arrest of the two students from Berkeley High, age 13 and 15, who allegedly had been in an altercation – or threatened an altercation – with the pro-military forces.
Several hundred people, including some 50 who appeared to be high school age, blocked the police station entry, demanding the release of the arrested. Some 25 police in riot gear reacted pushing back the protesters with their batons.
What the council decided
The measure passed by the City Council was intended to “publicly differentiate between the city’s documented opposition to the unjust and illegal war in Iraq and our respect and support for those serving in the armed forces.”
The item says the city recognizes “the recruiter’s right to locate in our city and the right of others to protest or support their presence” and reiterates “respect and support” for people in the armed forces, underscoring “we strongly oppose the war and the continued recruitment of our young people into this war.”
Without formally rescinding the request to the city manger to write a letter telling the Marines they are unwelcome in Berkeley, the council item concludes: “with the issuance of this statement, there is no need to send the letter to the Marine Corps that the City Council approved on January 29, 2008.”