How about an Armistice Day Peace Picnic in Berkeley on November 11?

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 27, 2017 - 01:27:00 PM

SECOND UPDATE, 11/3/17: It's now rumored that the Joey Gibson/Amber Cummings crowd of big baddies is going to bail on their November 11 rally. What a shame, since local stalwarts were busy organizing a Peace Picnic to shame them. On the other hand, rain is predicted, which might put the kibosh on both events. Watch this space for developments. 

UPDATE: If Berkeley needs to see how to deal with the alt-Reich, check out what the beautiful people of Tennesse did in Shelbyville, as reported in the London Daily Mail.

Protesters play Mexican folk song 'La Bamba' to drown out neo-Nazi speech at 'White Lives Matter' rally in Tennessee ...

This week I was present at a couple of gatherings of some of the happy little band of Berkeleyans who think of themselves as progressive, a gentle adjective that at least connotes good will to many, if not to all, with some disagreement on the details. One was a mini-reunion of a respectable percentage of people who’d worked on Jesse Arreguin’s campaign for mayor or at least endorsed him as I did.

This crowd is a feisty bunch, and as I looked over the cc list on the email invitation I was sure that some sparks would fly. In general, these folks manage to come together around election time, but soon thereafter fissures start to develop in the common front, especially if their candidates win(though this hasn’t happened often in Berkeley.)

There’s a whole repertoire of jokes about how lefties organize. There’s the one about the circular firing squad, which was roundly denounced this summer in The Nation, where humor goes to die: The Circular Firing Squad Isn’t Amusing Any More. A gentler, more sectarian version is attributed to Will Rogers: “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.” That would apply to some of the people at the get-together, but would be rejected by others, perhaps the ones who hadn’t read the Nation article and/or the ones who brought us the Nader and Stein administrations. You get the idea. 


The Mayor and his elves had hopefully put together a four-section suggested agenda. Typically, completely unsurprisingly, the attending group in an hour and a half got through only the first item: RESPONSE TO NATIONALIST EVENTS IN BERKELEY. This had two subheads: “Preventing violence while allowing people to present opposing viewpoints” and “Police actions/perceptions/performance.” 

The invasions from the crazy right (aka alt-reich) have derailed to a certain extent any progress the new administration has tried to make on Berkeley’s major problem, housing. That’s too bad-- it deserves a lot of attention. And it’s hard not to talk about them, though, as Councilmember Kate Harrison observed ruefully, these well-publicized events are a sideshow which distracts us from the real problems in Berkeley. 

What was surprising about the discussion was what people said. Some participants, I suspect, must have been disappointed to find out how little they disagreed with one another—and I don’t think it was just that they were being polite. There were quibbles about the timing of the police withdrawal from Provo Park on August 28 and some other details, but these were expressed cooperatively with perfect civility. 

No vote was taken, no big sheets of butcher paper were stuck to the walls to record comments, no report was delivered by a designated secretary—for all of which I for one am intensely grateful, since I hate that kind of thing. 

Was there a consensus? The talk turned to the next threatened invasion, as reported by those more patient than I who monitor the scuzzy alt-right online. I hadn’t heard about it, nor had many others in the room. 

It seems that one of their many groups, this one called PatriotPrayer, has announced a get-together at People’s Park on Saturday, November 11, a day which is now called Veterans’ Day. As I understand it, this is the crowd fronted by one Joey Gibson, which bailed on a threatened San Francisco outing in August. 

Oh, no. Here we go again. (If you’re thinking of going, click here for more information, but please don’t go.) 

The people in the discussion agreed that the alternative non-violent gathering on Oxford street on August 27 was a critical success, but they were unhappy that the violent clash between two small groups of hotheads in the Civic Center got all the press. Unfortunately, and you may have heard this here before, if it bleeds, it leads. 

Some were disturbed by a Pro Publica article by two or three of the more competent local freelancers which tracked down the identities of some of the two-bit ex-con thugs who congregate under the name of Rise Above Movement, or RAM. The story included an account of their altercations in Berkeley with black-clad lefties at a pro-Trump rally in April. The authors complained that the RAM combatants in Berkeley were not prosecuted afterwards, but they soft-pedaled the role of the Black Bloc, aka Anti-Fa, which played a major part in the outcome. In general, assault charges are much harder to make stick if two or more sides are throwing punches. 

One speaker suggested that Our Crowd should get self-defense training to fight off such baddies, but no one seemed keen to endorse that. 

Instead, there was general approval of having non-violent counter-demonstrations in other locations on days when the righties show up. One speaker suggested that participants wear white hats (any style) to identify themselves as non-violent, an idea which was applauded by the assembly. 

A consensus deplored the enormous public cost of policing these stupid clashes. 

That’s about all there was time for, but it gave me a good picture of where progressive activists in Berkeley are at these days. 

My second progressive get-together was with a few old ladies like me, some even older, if that’s possible, who have been active over many years in a variety of peace movements, some quite effective. They did a bit of creative brainstorming about what might be done in the current climate, coming up with a variety of good ideas for affecting public opinion. I learned a lot from their experience. 

Putting all this talk from both gatherings together, here’s what I suggest for November 11: 

I remembered that in my long ago childhood that date was called Armistice Day, and it was a celebration of the end of World War I, a peace day, not a war day. It’s still celebrated under that name around the world. 

Instead of getting into a fight with the PatriotPrayer crowd, Berkeleyans should announce an Armistice Day White Hat Picnic in one of our many lovely parks. San Pablo Park would be ideal, or Cedar-Rose, or? 

I don’t think a permit is required if you simply ask families and friends to join you on a Saturday to share a meal in the out of doors. And how about musicians? I don’t think acoustic music needs a permit either. 

That might be as much as we can do on short notice. On the other hand, it would be great if the Berkeley City Council would endorse the event and show up to participate. It would be even better if we could snag a big draw as a speaker. (Is Michelle Obama free?) 

Would this be enough to distract public attention from whatever jerks show up at People’s Park to make trouble? Could the self-styled anti-fascists be dissuaded from taking the bait this time? 

We can’t be sure, but we won’t know unless we try. Who wants to volunteer to be the organizer?