Let's Stop Acting Out Those Chicken Little Fantasies in Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Friday September 08, 2017 - 01:18:00 PM

So, there’s yet another right-wing twerp coming to Berkeley next week. Maybe. Unless he chickens out, like more than one of his predecessors on the Berkeley College Republicans playlist. This is getting old.

Should today’s text be The Boy Who Cried Wolf or Chicken Little?

Today in this space we’re preaching to the choir. Last week I excoriated the press for turning a few minor league fistfights into what purported to be reporting on Berkeley’s reaction to the Amber Cummings debacle. It’s true that no more than ten Antis seem to have engaged with no more than three or four suspects from the other team, but still…when a couple hundred strapping mostly White Boys (plus a few allies of various other colors and genders) show up dressed as a cross between vampires and hangmen, you can kind of understand why the newsies were confused about who was on first.

So this week, let’s talk to those who claim to be on our side, the side of truth and justice, even though they’re costumed like the villains in comic books. 

Hey, guys, if you didn’t plan to beat people up, why were you carrying sticks? 

In a version of this conversation on a local list-serv, someone actually replied, well, the bad guys had sharpened sticks. Uh-huh. I think that was at a previous event, wasn’t it? 

My sources say that no such weapon was confiscated from either side in Berkeley on August 27. And several young stalwarts beating up one old guy doesn’t look very good, even if no one has sticks. 

Watching the—hmm, some of the language police in the many online discussions say it’s not correct to call all of them the Antifa, but if you do use that word the accent must be on the first sy LA ble, AN-ti-fa, but instead since you don’t know for sure that they all have the same politics, perhaps you should call some of them anarchists, or perhaps the Black Bloc to match their outfits since their outfits all match, but never spell it Block! Well, you know who I mean. 

And why do you hide your faces? I’ve been told those bandannas over their faces were just there to protect them from the teargas. Oh sure! 

There was no teargas in evidence in Berkeley on August 27 . They can perhaps be excused from thinking there might be, because as I walked into MLK Park at 3 or so on that date I was met by a phalanx of self-identified National Lawyers Guild members (an often useful organization I’ve belonged to from time to time) who assured me that the Berkeley Police were planning to use teargas if they hadn’t already. 

How did they know? Well, they just did. Someone saw the police putting on gas masks, perhaps. 

So I called a reliable person who works for the city whose phone number I happened to have, and I learned tear gas was explicitly banned from this event, and in point of fact was never deployed. 

That indicates that the text for today should be Chicken Little. 

You remember her, the gal who rushed around saying The Sky is Falling until she’d whipped all of the village poultry (Henny Penny, Goosy Lucy, etc.) into a frenzy, at which point Foxy Loxy ate them all up. 

Here’s the moral of this story: if you get hysterical when the likes of pathetic Amber Cummings makes a few threats which she can’t back up, you might not notice when real danger is sneaking up on us. That would be, for just one example, the DACA revocation which came not long after August 27. You can think of many more, if you can calm down for a minute. And some police sometimes somewhere do use tear gas, but not at all often if ever in Berkeley since the new council was elected. 

Contemplation of the Blackies tempts the invocation of an Aesop’s fable, the Boy Who Cried Wolf. You remember him, the shepherd who got bored and shouted that a fictitious wolf had come to eat his sheep. That brought some gratifying attention from the grownups, but the next time he hollered, when the wolf had actually arrived, no one came to help, so the sheep got eaten up. 

Aesop’s moral was that when liars tell the truth no one believes them. 

That’s perhaps a bit harsh for the Antifoids, most of whom seem to sincerely believe their own PR, but if you deploy maximum force against every nutcase the right dredges up, no one believes you when the real bad things happen. 

Today’s New York Times has a brilliant op-ed by Kurt Andersen: Hands Up. It’s Showtime 

The subhead makes his point: “Long before President Trump, the militarization of police was being shaped by fantasy and entertainment.” 

He illustrates his thesis with examples from police SWAT teams, but it could easily apply to Urban Shield and similar police militarization programs about which Berkeleyans are righteously indignant. 

Why do we need that kind of stuff? He says: 

“Because Americans love making their fantasies as realistic as possible — Old West lawmen, postmodern commandos, take your pick… It’s not only police militarization where Americans’ pervasive real-world play acting has been weaponized. I think, for instance, of the costumed and armed racists with torches and Nazi flags in Charlottesville, Va., last month. There is a synergy among our multiplying fantasies, the ones we know to be fiction, the ones we kind of sort of believe, and the ones — like imagining that policing is the same as fighting wars — we’re convinced aren’t fantasies at all.” 

And though Andersen doesn’t go there, his analysis also describes the play-acting of the guys who obligingly show up to enact the “other side” in these fantasy wars. The black-costumed brigade we see in Berkeley is just as deluded about reality as those they oppose. They remind me of nothing so much as what I’ve seen of Renaissance Faires, where “warriors” show up in kilts or simulated armor and engage in choreographed battles. 

Get real, folks! 

I’ve seen all too many examples of left-leaning fantasizing about violence in my long political life. The Weather Underground and the last gasp of the Black Panthers were a couple of them where I knew participants all too well and which came to naught but grief in the end. 

It’s what they call the optics, people. If you want to be taken seriously, it really helps to look serious. 

I have no doubt that if the Big Blackies were willing to talk about their political ideas we would agree on almost everything. If they’d be willing to skip acting out when the next right-wing dope comes to town, I’d like to challenge them to participate instead in a public forum where we all sit down and talk about what our goals are, what we’d like to achieve or prevent in the real world. That might actually accomplish something. 

I’m tempted to ask them for a face-to-face meeting, but if they’re sincerely afraid to show their faces they could wear their masks, though I always use my real face and my real name myself. 

I’d promise not to bring any tear gas, or even any pepper spray—they could search my purse at the door if they’re scared of a 77-year-old woman. 

How about it, guys? Are you brave enough to face me, figuratively at least? 

Let me know. You can reach me here: bomalley@berkeleydailyplanet.com