Saturday in an invaded Berkeley (First Person)

Steve Martinot
Monday April 17, 2017 - 10:18:00 AM

Saturday’s gala gladiatorial contest for the strongest vocal chords (on Tax Day 2017) tried not to take up where the March 4 confrontation between out-of-town Trumpists and Berkeleyans left off. But it failed. For most of the day, it looked just like that earlier chant-fest, only smaller. 

When I first got there, at around 10:30, there was this flimsy orange webbing stretched like a fence around the park (aka civil center), with large groups of people inside. I wondered how to get in, thought of simply stepping over it, but resisted the temptation. Down the block on Allston, I saw cops standing at an opening in the webbing, letting people in who didn’t have any weapons. I stood there with my jacket open, and a cop frisked me with his eyes from about 10 feet away, and waved me in. That’s when things got confusing. 

I walked in to the first crowd I came to. And quickly realized, from the USian flags that people were wearing, that this was a Trumpist crowd. 

Note: "USian" is the English translation of the Spanish word "estadounidense," which means a person from the US. "America," by the way, is two continents full of people with different cultures and traditions. For USians to call themselves “the Americans” is rank hemispheric chauvinism. 

There was another crowd of people to the west, standing on the other side of two parallel lines of webbing, running north-south across the park, spaced about 10 feet apart. That west side was populated by people in black with face masks, facing the Trumpists on the east side. I felt right at home. The thought occurred to me that the face masks don’t hide identity; they created it. It was the major mode of distinguishing oneself from the Trumpists. If they took their facemasks off, they would lose their identity, and become simply faces in the crowd, like myself. 

First assessment of the situation: The two parallel lines of webbing constituted a form of DMZ. Indeed, that is what everyone was calling it. The Trumpists held the east side of the DMZ, along with the stage where the big round fountain was. I had been to a sort of black-bloc meeting a couple of days before the event where they had decided to get to the park early and take control of that stage and fountain area. Obviously, that plan had failed. 

The existence of this DMZ impressed me. I thought, “Ah ha, a veritable strategy on the part of the police.” One could even be proud of the fact that they were thinking. But as I walked back to the south end of the DMZ at Allston, I realized my pride was misplaced. The opening in the perimeter webbing was not aligned with the DMZ, but rather 50 feet east, so that all those who came through it entered the Trumpist zone. Had the webbing opening been aligned with the DMZ, those entering would have been able to turn right to Trumpism or left to their opposition, and the DMZ would have served its purpose. Like the plans of the black-bloc group, the police strategy was a total failure. It had refused to take the simplest geographic factors into account. 

When I left, a short while later, to take care of some business, I mentioned to one of the cops at the webbing entry that the police strategy was total failure. He looked at me and said, “We had a strategy?” I laughed and said, “Oh, they didn’t tell you?” 

I won’t call those on the left side of the DMZ anti-Trumpists, because they didn’t lend themselves to the kind of tunnel-vision that one finds among those who equate rabid support for government policy with patriotism. On the left, there were those chanting against racism, prejudice, fascism, as well as Trump. Many were simply outraged at the invasion and provocation of this right-wing rabid bunch, who seemed to use patriotism as a prosthetic device. 

Essentially, presence was the real substance of what was going on. The chanting by both sides cancelled itself out. Presence was all that was left. However, because those entering the park did so in the Trumpist zone, that is where the center of activity was. Tunnel-vision confronted Berkeley-defenders, nose to nose, shouting and chanting, and every now and then looking like they wanted to throw a punch. That didn’t start to happen in any serious way until later. I left after a while, came back a while later. I was told a few fights had broken out, and that a couple of people had been arrested. But by one o’clock, the webbing fence had been trampled out of existence, and the major part of the crowd had moved on to Milvia, escaping the police interdiction on weapons. There were firecrackers, teargas grenades, and some pepper spray canisters, all deployed by the people in the crowd. The police stepped aside, no longer knowing what to do – except wisely to block off the streets so that traffic wouldn’t add itself to the mix. 

I saw a few people helped out of the crowd with blood on them, but nothing serious. I ran into two friends of mine at different times who had bloody faces. In both cases, they had apparently been sucker-punched by some "freespeechie" Trumpists. Neither was the type to start a fight. There was also an impromptu DYI Trumpist first aid effort at the corner of Milvia and Center, for a few of their ranks who had gotten knocked out of the action. 

Ultimately, as the afternoon wore on, most of the Trumpists moved up Center St. to Shattuck and beyond, surrounded by Berkeley-defenders. The rest had stayed back in the park on the stage and fountain. By two o’clock, those on Center St. were actually just arguing with each other. At one point, I actually heard the crowd surrounding that group of arguers cheering and applauding, with some laughter spicing it up. From the sounds emitted, which didn’t sound like people taking themselves seriously, I concluded that it was basically Berkeley-defenders doing the cheering and laughing. In effect, the crowd of confrontationalists, as it moved up Center St. to east of Shattuck, sort of ground itself down to a low volume noise level. 

As the event started to peter out, it began to look like a kind of stalemate. I think that was actually the best outcome. Had the Trumpists lost, they would have been, as their patriotism teaches them, sore-losers, and come back for more. Had they won, their silly pride would have egged them on, feeling the desire to shame this nefarious bastion of liberalism a second time. Hopefully, ending in a stalemate, that will be the end of this re-activist-thread. There will no doubt be more of a different kind, as the rot of angst and paranoia that characterizes all white supremacy takes greater hold of the national administrative ideology. But for now, our job should be to pass a single-payer health care plan for this state, as the most effective political deconstruction of the assumptions of that same national ideology. 

After March 4, a lot of people were saying that the black-bloc should stay home, because all they did was start violence. But this time, as the Trumpists showed up, they brought with them a background of smoke rising from areas of Syria bombed by Trump, accompanying the tension of gun boats off the coast of North Korea sent by Trump, so nobody can now say that it is anyone but Trump and his accessories who are starting the violence. We who present presence against this are defending more than Berkeley.