Calling for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, participants in daylong events in Berkeley marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War on Wednesday with protests at the downtown Marine Recruiting Center and a rally in Civic Center Park.
At its height, the protest grew to some 250 people when Civic Center demonstrators marched to the recruiting center after the noon rally, but for most of the day numbers were smaller, with police sometimes outnumbering protesters.
The noon rally in the park featured a hip-hop band and Cindy Sheehan, peace activist turned candidate for Congress, who is running for Nancy Pelosi’s seat on the Green Party ticket. Addressing the young people, Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, said the growing debt to pay for the war will fall to them. “They’re robbing you of your future,” she said.
“They send jobs overseas and think you’ll join the military,” she said, urging the teens to “flip burgers,” if they have to.
“Do not join the military,” she warned, adding, “We have a right to say, ‘Marines, get out of our community.’ ”
Calling on the crowd to become active opponents of the war, Sheehan asked, “Why are George Bush and Dick Cheney still there?” and answered, “We let them be there.”
Organizers—the ANSWER Coalition, Code Pink and the World Can’t Wait—held a second rally in the street outside the Marine Recruiting Center at 64 Shattuck Square, as police blocked traffic. Demonstrators had maintained a presence all day at the recruiting center, which did not open.
A group of five people, most of them members of the Berkeley College Republicans, held American flags and argued with some of the anti-war demonstrators.
A counter-protester, who identified herself only as Kimberly, told the Planet she had come because the Berkeley City Council had been disrespectful to the Marines by saying they were not welcome in the city.
She was also there to support the war effort, which she called a “defensive war.”
“We can’t wait until we’re attacked,” she said. Asked if the Iraqis were going to attack the U.S., she said it isn’t the Iraqi people that would attack.
“It’s a threat from the Middle East,” she said. Without the defensive war, “9-11 could happen all over again.”
Police Chief Doug Hambleton, who spoke to the Planet while observing the scene at the recruiting center in the afternoon, said the entire police force was on duty, with officers covering their regular beats and other officers working on their days off to cover the demonstrations.
Asked why there were so many police—at times there were as many as three dozen officers guarding the Marine Recruiting Center, with another dozen across the street and more stationed at several downtown intersections—Hambleton and City Manager Phil Kamlarz, who was also observing at the recruiting center, both said they had no idea how many demonstrators would be on the streets.
“Even the organizers didn’t know,” Kamlarz said.
Police Review Commissioner Michael Sherman, also at the recruiting center, told the Planet he thought the day had gone well. He had expressed concern earlier about complaints the members of the Police Review Commission heard alleging officers overreacted to demonstrations, including pushing protesters to the ground.
Sherman said he understood why there were so many officers on duty. “It’s like an insurance policy—you’re prepared for the worst,” he said.
No arrests were made, according to Berkeley police spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.