For a brief moment Tuesday, the warpaint and angry threats outside Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall gave way to sporadic bursts of festivity.
Around 8 p.m.—an hour before the City Council would meet to discuss rescinding their statement regarding the Marine Recruiting Center—a group of young people from Youth and Student Answer Coalition and Students for Justice in Palestine took to the streets to dance to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Around 30 teenagers rebelled against the riot cops brought in from the Berkeley Police Department, the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, when they were told to vacate the street in front of Martin Luther King Jr. Park, by dancing wildly in front of them.
There was some hip-hop, some leaps and jumps, and even a few kung-fu moves.
“Move,” ordered the police, pushing a group of young girls on the pavement with batons and plexiglass shields.
“We’ve got the right to choose and there ain’t no way we’ll lose it,” sang the girls, pushing back. “This is our life, this is our song, we’ll fight the powers that be, just don’t pick our destiny, ’cause you don’t know us, you don’t belong.”
Their lyrics pretty much summed up the mood for the evening, and sent out a clear message to the police officers.
“We are dancing for peace,” said Mahaliya, a UC Berkeley student and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.
“We are trying to resist the recruiters ... The police have been hitting young people,” she said. “It’s been really violent. A student from Berkeley High was thrown to the ground. The cops have been completely protecting the right-wing people and ignoring the youth of color who are out here today.”
Maya Nadjiela, a member of Student Answer Coalition, nodded in agreement.
“I am out here to support my family, my community,” she said. “And this is how we are being treated.”
The mood inside the City Hall grew tense when officers from the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department were spotted marching in front of the building around 9.30 p.m.
“Why are they here?” asked one of the councilmember’s aides. “What do they think is going to happen?” Nobody knew the answer, but for a brief minute, people wondered if it had been a smart move to bring in so many riot police into the city.
Homeless advocate Michael Diehl said the presence of the police officers had intimidated people the whole day.
“The cops want to take back the streets,” he said. “And they are being very martial about it.”
Diehl, who had been waiting to speak at the meeting since morning, said he was against the war.
“I am already doing post-traumatic-stress therapy with my generation, the people who came back from the Vietnam war, and now we are doing it all over again,” he said. “I am not against having the Marine Recruiting Center in the city ... It’s a good way to revive the anti-war movement, but we should also be able to talk.”
Once City Council started their discussion on the January 29 vote telling the Marines they were unwelcome in the city, only a handful stayed behind to listen to the live audio telecast outside. A pink “Women Still Say No to War” flag fluttered in the background, reminding people of how it all began five months ago outside a tiny, nondescript storefront on Shattuck Square.
A woman ran across the police line waving a life-sized poster which read “Stop Bush’s War Pimps.”
“I saw the police pushing people ... the pro-resolution people,” said Renay Davis, who was handing out fliers and other information at the Code Pink booth. “They were not being violent or anything, but putting their hands on people and telling them to move back. I don’t think people liked that very much.”
Right before the council meeting started, anxious anti-war demonstrators came up to Davis and inquired about speaking at the meeting.
“Is my name in there?” asked Charles Brown. “And my friend wants to speak too.”
“There are 69 names on this list, but it’s only one of many lists,” said Davis, putting down Brown’s name. “It’s incredible how long people have waited to speak today.”
Pro-war supporters—made up mainly of Move Forward America members—carried “God Bless Our Troops” placards and pictures of Marines with their mouth taped on the lawn throughout the evening.
Deb Johns from Roseville carried a portrait of her son U.S. Marine officer Sgt. William Johns, who is currently doing his third tour of duty in Iraq.
Debbie Lee spoke about her son Marc Allen Lee—the first U.S. Navy seal to be killed in Iraq—to cheers from those condemning the council’s resolution.
“I wrote to the mayor but did not hear back,” she said. “I am appalled at what the City Council has done, and I will fight till my last breath to protect the Marines.”