These photos were taken in Berkeley on February 12, 2008 at Civic Center Park and in front of the City Hall building, at the protest and counter-protest over the decision by the Berkeley City Council to support Code Pink's attempt to expel the Marine Corps recruiting office from Berkeley.
Here we see Jodie Evans (founder of Code Pink) holding up a peace sign on the left side of the photo, and Medea Benjamin (current de facto leader of Code Pink) holding up a peace sign on the right, along with various other Code Pink honchos. They decided to symbolically march around the park at one point, but no one fell in line behind them, and no one opposed them, so it ended up looking like a rather hollow gesture.
Code Pink started the brouhaha in 2007 when they announced their intention to "drive the Marines out of Berkeley" -- or, more prosaically, to force the closure of a newly opened "U.S. Marine Corps Officer Selection Office" by staging protests in front of it until the Marines gave up trying to recruit anyone in Berkeley.
The protest didn't generate much national interest until the Berkeley City Council voted in January to support Code Pink's protest, to award the group a free permanent sound permit and parking space in front of the Marines office for the weekly protests, and to send an official municipal letter to the Marines telling them they were "uninvited, unwelcome intruders." This aggressively anti-military vote caught the attention of conservative bloggers and radio hosts, and a rally was scheduled to coincide with the next City Council meeting -- February 12. So, on that day, pro-military, pro-America, conservative and patriotic protesters (such as this young woman) convened in Berkeley to demand that the Berkeley City Council rescind its earlier vote.
The scheduled conservative demonstration (an extreme rarity in Berkeley) sparked outrage and a counter-protest on the part of Code Pink supporters -- including left-wing radical groups like World Can't Wait and ANSWER, as well as hundreds of independent protesters, such as this proudly traitorous fellow. Extreme anti-American sentiment is commonplace in Berkeley (hence the widespread local support for Code Pink's anti-Marines protest), but often shocks outsiders when they see it for the first time.
And of course, as with every Bay Area political event, anyone and everyone with a personal axe to grind or an outlandish philosophy showed up to have their say, even if it had nothing to do with the protest at hand. Notice how the ABC reporter (on the left) walks right by the most interesting sign at the protest. (The person holding the "forced sterilization" sign later showed up as a commenter on this blog post about this image, starting at comment #7, explaining his sign and world view.)
The pro-America protesters, many of who came to Berkeley from other cities in the area, were generally more, well, conservative, not just in their political ideas, but in their dress and demeanor too. Yet there were exceptions -- such as this Marine Corps Mom with American flag eyes.
This is Melanie Morgan, Bay Area conservative talkshow host and founder of Move America Forward (a patriotic political group intended to be the anti-MoveOn.org), who was the guiding force behind the day's event. She occasionally took the mike to make announcements to the hundreds of supporters who showed up. But overall, the protest was totally unstructured -- people on both sides did whatever they wanted.
Opposing Melanie, across the street, was Code Pink, which signed up hundreds of students from the adjacent Berkeley High School, visible in the background. Each girl got a sticker from Code Pink encouraging them to "Make Out -- Not War."
World Can't Wait at the next booth over was even more aggressive, supplying free bandannas and t-shirts to seemingly half the school. This is WCW's modus operandi -- they usually recruit high school and middle school students for their protests, often with the consent and encouragement of their liberal teachers or school administrators. The students just enjoy playing hookey all day with offical approval, and are most likely unaware that World Can't Wait is a communist cult.
The end result was that several hundred (perhaps as many as a thousand) teenaged students cut school all day to participate in the protest, and they pretty much ran wild, the only adults monitoring them being the WCW and ANSWER demagogues, who only egged the kids on to more and more aggressive behavior.
Of all the sights and sounds at the protest, none were more shocking (even to me) than the insulting and menacing attitudes the students displayed to any adult whom they suspected of not being sufficiently left-wing. Girls as young as 14 would surround pro-America adults and would launch into spontaneous verbal assaults, exhibiting the most disrespectful behavior imaginable. Here, a little girl in a kaffiyeh lashed out at a bewildered senior lady, calling her a "bitch" and "murderer" for supporting the Marines.
Often the children would not let the adults talk back, but when they did, the adults' words were greeted with sneers and derision. Here, the girls listen with barely-disguised comtempt to another pro-America protester who had intervened.
But soon she was cut off by one of the other girls, who responded to her attempts at a rational discussion by calling her a "racist" and an "old hag" who needed to "get off our territory" immediately, while the other kids contributed epithets and mocking laughter.
Conversations of this sort went on continuously all day.
Click on the picture above (or here) to view a video compilation of how disrespectful the student protesters were toward the adults. A summary of the action (some of the audio portions may be difficult to make out):
Student protesters [chanting at the Marines supporters]: Get the fuck off our block! Get the fuck off our block!
Girl protester #1: ...Bitch! Film that! [While "flipping off" the Marines supporters with a "fuck you" gesture.]
Boy protester #1: [Prancing back and forth in front of the Marines supporters while taunting them with gang signs.]
Boy protester #2: Are you really that low, to hit a minor? Are you? Think about it! That's how fucking DUMB you are!
Boy protester #3: Hey -- freshen up your red neck!
Protester off-camera: Redneck!
Boy protester #2: That's how stupid you are!
Student protesters: [Chanting and yelling while pressing forward and shaking fists at the Marines supporters.]
Elderly veteran: [Tries to extricate himself from the situation by pushing through the crowd.]
Student protesters: [Cries of outrage.]
Girl protester #2: Fucked up! Fuck! [punches the elderly veteran lightly on the back.]
Student protesters: [Turning around starting to pursue the elderly veteran.]
Girl protester #3: [Yelling at elderly veteran] Shit! Fuck you, bitch!
Boy protester #4: Hey, fuck that old man...
The children were giddy with power. It strongly reminded me of what happened during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s China, when high school students harassed and humiliated their teachers and other local authority figures -- all with the approval of the Commmunist Party officials, who were consciously trying to overthrow the old social order. And considering that these kids at the Berkeley rally were coached and trained by World Can't Wait, which is a Maoist revolutionary group, I suppose their behavior shouldn't have surprised me. Most of the kids there, contrary to what you might imagine, were middle class, the children of professors and intellectuals, and after the protest undoubtedly went home to their comfortable houses with Mom and Dad, who most likely nodded with pride at tales of the day's radical exploits.
If you happened to listen in on any of the day's numerous arguments between students and adult pro-Marine protesters, you'd discover that the kids were shockingly ignorant of even the most basic facts. In this video, some Berkeley High students arguing with a man about the causes of the Iraq War reveal that they've never heard of Al Qaeda:
Man: I can only look at the evidence that I see. Al Qaeda took credit for driving planes into the World Trade Center.
Girl on right: [Starts laughing]
Boy off-camera: Al Qaeda?
Man: True or not true?
Boy off-camera: Al ... Kay-da?
Man: Al Qaeda.
Boy off-camera: [with a mocking tone] Al Kayda.
In this video, a Marine mom argues with a Code Pink supporter about the right of the Marine Corps to have a recruitment office in Berkeley. The Marine mom scores logical point after logical point, but her opponent doesn't seem to grasp that he's losing the argument. Then a spinoff dispute breaks out between two bystanders; a young anti-military activist declares that since the Marines supporters are in the minority in Berkeley, they should have no rights, since minorities have no rights in America. Another bystander tries to point out to him how completely illogical that argument is on several levels, but again is met with incomprehension.
When the two ideological sides weren't separated by the police, arguments of this sort erupted every few minutes somewhere or other in the park.
Sensing a mob she could seize control of, Medea Benjamin positioned herself in front of a large group of children and rallied them to join her in a completely purposeless sit-down strike, which lasted all of ten minutes, and had no stated goals.
C'mon, kids! Resist the authority figures! Overthrow the adult hegemony! (Excluding me, of course!)
This kind of random, pointless confrontational posturing went on all afternoon. The radicals and the students would swarm to some area of the Civic Center and "make a stand," facing off against the cops, who would line up to keep them at bay. This would draw the attention of the pro-America demonstrators, who would start walking over to see the action -- and the cops would then form another line to keep them back, separating the two opposing sides. That is, for a few minutes, at least. After a short time, the artificial face-off would become boring, and the groups would dissipate, and often mingle together immediately afterward without any conflict.
In between these ridiculous pseudo-showdowns, when the two groups would mix freely, the cops would resort to forming a riot-line at some random spot in the middle of the park, separating nobody from no one -- just as a show of force, I presume, to make sure everyone knew that any violent acts would be dealt with pronto. And this strategy worked, for the most part -- aside from a few minor scuffles, there was no real violence at the protest, despite a lot of tension in the air.
And tension there was. On one side, the pro-Marines demonstrators were fervidly against terrorism and for America...
...while the other side was just as fervidly anti-American. And while not everyone was perhaps as frank with his opinions as this guy, the vast majority of the counter-demonstrators were overtly anti-military, or anti-capitalism, or anti-patriotism, or some combination of the three.
Sometimes the "discussion" between the two sides descended into macho posturing. In this video, an anti-Marines activist wearing a blue hat seems to have overdosed on testosterone, and repeatedly confronts Marines supporters with seemingly no other intention other than to pick a fight. Three former Marines take him up on his challenge, one after the other, but luckily fisticuffs never actually break out. Toward the end of the video, a high school student yells at the disputants, but one of the former Marines says something everyone there heartily agreed with: "If you're still in high school, I do not want to hear you." Then an older Marine screams at the radicals, "You're all punks -- and I'd die right here for every one of you!"
While the left imagines that it has a monopoly on humor and sarcasm, at this rally it seemed the shoe was on the other foot. Many of the pro-America signs were sarcastic or satirical...
..while the left-wing side seemed sorely lacking in finesse or subtlety.
Amidst the cacophony, one was occasionally reminded of the specific reason for the protest: the Berkeley City Council was scheduled that evening to vote to amend their earlier anti-Marines decisions. No one yet knew how the vote would go.
Once again, the right-wing side had the edge in the humor sweepstakes. And there was an interesting age division between the two camps: while the pro-America demonstrators were mostly middle-aged -- generally between 30 and 60 years old -- the "progressive" side was composed mostly of the slightly older "retired hippie" generation of seniors...
...or young adolescents who used politics as a sort of attention-getting accessory (notice the message on her chest).
In fact, the whole event served essentially the same function that a prom or homecoming game might serve at a normal high school.
The sophomore boys strutted around and tested out the limits of their budding machismo...
...while the sophomore girls lined up and hoped some cute boy would ask them to dance rebel.
All the while, the Pied Pipers of World Can't Wait stood in the wings and tried to initiate thrilling conflict at every turn, goading the naifs into hormone-fueled revolution.
But the kids were only part of the story. There were serious adult issues being played out as well. While the pro-America side assumed without question that the Code Pink supporters were anti-troop and anti-America, a certain percentage of the Code Pinkers tried to maintain that they were merely anti-war, and had nothing against the troops themselves. But their efforts to maintain this façade were constantly undermined by the more unapologetic protesters such as this guy, for example, who unveiled a huge display board specifically blaming the troops themselves.
Just as in Lt. John Kerry's "Winter Soldier" testimony, American troops were vilified en masse for the wrongs -- real, exaggerated, or imaginary -- of a few.
Supporting the deserters and mutineers seems to be a running theme. As was, in this case, supporting the enemy. In another time and place, such sentiments would be considered treason, but hey -- this is Berkeley! Treason is cool! (Photo courtesy of Neocon Hippie.)
In case you're wondering that that tent was: The protest had actually started the night before, when Code Pink set up a tent city to sleep overnight and make sure they staked out their territory before Melanie Morgan's minions arrived.
The sleeping quarters were still there the following evening.
The strategy paid off, as Code Pink was ready and available for the national and international media when they showed up the next morning. Here, a reporter from Fox News interviews a stereotypical Code Pink member.
While a reporter from what must be an exotic media outlet interviewed another member nearby.
Now here's a lady with a completely different kind of Code Pink shirt.
While the Marines supporters displayed American flags (right-side-up, naturally), their ideological opponents displayed them upside-down. If you look closely, you can see he "tortured" the flag by burning cigarette holes in it.
Despite all the differences, and all the rancor, when it's time to sit down and take a break -- all the politics are temporarily set aside as wingnut and moonbat share a laugh together, the only thing separating them a banner inscribed with the word "Torture."
And let's take a break ourselves to soak up some local Berkeley atmosphere.
Mr. Binder Clips, the Argentinian communist and anti-Semite whom we've met many times before, crawled out from under his rock for his bi-monthly appearance.
Stephen Pearcy showed up as well with one of his trademark U.S. soldier effigies.
One of the leaders of World Can't Wait surveyed his handiwork.
And it wouldn't be a Berkeley protest without Joseph Anderson (scroll down the linked page for info about him), perhaps the most rabid anti-Zionist in a town full of rabid anti-Zionists -- and in his case at least, an overt anti-Semite as well.
Meanwhile, the kids were still running rampant, flipping off everyone in sight and occasionally screaming with excitement.
The confrontations and disrespect continued as the afternoon wore on. Predictably, the children had only the feeblest grasp on any of the issues, and essentially no knowedge of history prior to approximately 2003, so trying to have a serious discussion with any of them was an exercise in futility. Someone must have taught them that confidence, self-esteem and volume were an acceptable substitute for logic.
On rare occasions you might see some of the students actually trying to understand what the experienced veterans were trying to tell them, but such scenes were sadly few and far between.
Incredibly, out of the hundreds and hundreds of brainwashed students, a handful of patriots appeared. Talk about rebels!
Little by little, a few of the impressionable minds were drawn to the dark side; this clique of boys dared to approach a table staffed by the Marines to ask sincere questions about the military.
Eventually, even more pro-America teens materialized. But they were still outnumbered by at least 100 to 1.
You might wonder what was happening at the Marine Corps office while all this was going on. Even though the office was only a few blocks away from the protest, and even though it was the focus of the entire event -- not a single person (besides me) even bothered to show up and check it out. Aside from a small police guard, it was deserted.
Back at the rally, another pointless "last stand" was in progess, this time involving sitting in a circle and refusing to budge for 15 whole minutes.
Another thing that amazed me to no end was how the other photographers bought wholesale the narratives and phony photo ops presented to them by the protesters. After sitting in a circle got boring, some of the students went over to another corner of the park to stage an equally pointless "die-in." All the photographers rushed over to record this glorious moment of poignant rebellion, not for the purpose of mocking it, but to present it unchallenged as a legitimate piece of news: "Students stage die-in!" This counts as journalism? Notice how the over-excited students simply couldn't resist sitting up and flashing peace signs at the assembled photographers, despite supposedly playing "dead" -- completely undermining the premise of a charade that was flimsy to begin with.
Not all of the youngsters played along with these flamboyant gestures: some simply stood around and acted tough, and held up thought-provoking signs.
Let's take this opportunity to check out some coverage of the day's events from other sources:
YouTuber "vindogrks" took a revealing video of Code Pink protesting at the Marine Corps office shortly before the demonstration, in which they state their honest opinions, including that the Marines are "war criminals" -- in fact, that the U.S. military is "full of war criminals" -- that World War II was "wrong" and that we shouldn't have reacted to the bombing of Pearl Harbor because "What the the hell were we doing in Hawaii anyway?", that the War on Terror is a "lie" and "Al Qaeda is not a threat," that the U.S. military intentionally targets children and babies, and "What's wrong with communism?", and more. Truly jaw-dropping -- and it shows that the carefully crafted slogans on the Code Pink banners are just made to assuage middle America -- underneath the emphasis on "peace" is a very deep hatred of America.
At the end of the night of February 12, the City Council finally got around to voting on the issue at hand, and reached a compromise decision: they retracted the anti-military letter they were going to send to the Marines, but stopped short of actually issuing an apology. Both sides felt betrayed -- the left felt the city had caved in to the right-wingers, whereas the military supporters were still angry that the city refused to apologize for its actions. The San Francisco Chronicle has coverage of the vote, along with some photos of the day's protest.
It was pretty disorienting to be at a demonstration where the protesters were almost evenly split between two opposing sides -- something that almost never happens in the Bay Area. To convey the whiplash sensation of what it was like to wander around the rally, I'll present here a back-and-forth duel of signs from each side, necessitating an emotional re-alignment with each new scene. And also, it's a good excuse to show off some of the more memorable slogans! Let's start on the...
Back in the trenches, Che Tattoo Lady pondered the existential meaninglessness of facing off against the police for no discernible reason.
The occasional hand-wave and lunge spiced things up, in an attempt to provoke an over-reaction from the cops. All dedicated protesters crave martyrdom from police brutality. But alas, it was not to be.
The pro-America side generally had less of a taste for the provocation game.
Whenever a brainless confrontation seemed to be brewing, the cops would set up a riot line between the opposing parties. Of course, one could just walk around the line to the other side if one really wanted to, but that would defeat the purpose of our little pretend street battle, wouldn't it?
At one point in the afternoon some authentic tension arose at the north end of the park, setting the stage for the day's biggest real-world crisis -- the arrest of two young students and the siege of the police headquarters!