A Sunday Afternoon in Berkeley

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Photo by Sheraz Sadiq, KQED

Yesterday we held a No Hate Rally in Berkeley and the haters didn’t come–or did they? I went and I’ll admit that I have hate in my heart toward the whole Trump Clan, the hideous Trump cabinet and the Republican leadership.

So what was the story yesterday in Berkeley? Was it a violent riot as most media portrayed it, a beautiful peaceful gathering for the whole family, a staunch defense of the city or… a mixture of all of that? So far I’ve read about a dozen versions and each is colored with its own bias, of course. I’ll share some of them leaving out the names of those who described their personal experiences unless they have been published them.

One friend who has mobilized as security for demonstrations over the years and engaged in self defense at times said, “I saw a large group of Black Bloc young people congregating on the corner.  There were 30 – 50 of them there…. As I walked down Allston toward McKinley, this group of Black Bloc people started to chase down one person who was running from them toward McKinley.  I have no idea who this person was.  The Black Bloc people caught him, threw him to the ground, and started to beat him with a stick, kick him and beat him with fists.”

This stands in contrast to another report, “others rallied and then started marching toward MLK park. After a few blocks we were joined by about 100 antifa activists dressed in black to create an inspiring demonstration of unity and determination to make Berkeley and the entire East Bay a fascist-free zone.

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Photo by Sheraz Sadiq/KQED

Once at MLK park people prepared to defend themselves against the kind of attack that left at least seven people suffering from knife wounds in Sacramento last June. Instead, the handful of fascists stayed behind the police barriers, some literally kneeling at the cops’ feet as they hurled racist jibes and gave the finger to the anti-fascist protestors. People became predictably angry…..Remarkably, and contrary to some of the media narratives, the fascists escaped with their lives and without serious injury.”

This is a little of what I saw and posted on facebook, since corroborated by some reporters who were there, “Ok there is one guy here that the crowd was chasing as he left the park. Apparently he had his hat and glasses knocked off and then was surrounded while he was still arguing that Trump had created jobs. A couple of BPD had to come and rescue him, sending him on his way.
I expected to go to Civic Center Park to be angry at these guys but then I started to feel afraid for him. I still don’t like mobs nor the idea of picking on the weak, which he was at the time.” He was eventually led away by a Berkeley cop.

Other friends testified to peaceful crowds and heartening speeches even at Civic Center. There were certainly many folks, thousands at the alternate rally, lots of good signs and happy faces with the Berkeley/Oakland Stands United Against Hate posters that were produced by the hundreds.

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Photo by Dan Brekke/KQED

Further facebook topics for discussion:

One lively discussion as to whether Antifa  and especially the masked black clad crowd (Black Bloc) were useful/positive/ protective demonstrators and necessary or a truly violent faction of the Left. After the events in Charolottesville and the role that Antifa is said to have played in protecting peaceful church going folk, mostly Black, by the way, some of us, me included, have felt the need to-if not embrace them-then not reject them for their “bravery” or others for their dedication if not their tactics.

The other isue that has been raging is whether the media or was it the “fake news” -please note I mean this ironically-over played the violence of the day in Berkeley given all the folks carrying signs with young and old family members, large groups in Groucho masks, they were the “Marxists,” and speeches about love and inclusivity.  Still I can’t blame reporters who saw some attacks and at least one beating and were themselves threatened. One reporter even jumped between the black clad counter protestors and the right winger they were beating.  https://www.revealnews.org/blog/reveal-host-al-letson-shields-man-from-beating-at-anti-hate-rally/

Our own Darwin BondGraham of the East Bay Express filed this report, tweeting it in real time, https://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2017/08/27/liveblog-east-bay-demonstrators-protest-against-hate . “Update at 2:10 p.m.: Antifa members badly beat up an alt-right demonstrator on a downtown street.”

Here’s another account that seems a little bipolar but it was that kinda day, “Anyone who was on the ground in Berkeley yesterday will tell you how beautiful a demonstration it was: thousands of people, old and young and in between, socialists, anarchists, liberals, unionists, brass bands, religious groups, students, you name it. There was tactical cooperation between very different groups. A large Antifa contingent played a vital role in defending the community from the 30 or so white supremacists who showed up armed and looking to fight. There were a handful of scuffles, and a few Nazi’s got mildly beat up and removed from the park by Antifa folks. But the day was overwhelmingly celebratory and peaceful.”

And yes, I also saw a report from a “No Hate Rally” organizer who was at least momentarily glad that some Antifa were there when faced with the White Supremacists at the park.

But here’s a divergent point of view from someone I respect as a very thoughtful human being though I know her only a little, “#1: If you live in Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, Albany, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, El Cerrito or Richmond, in other words, the inner East Bay, you knew this would happen. You knew 200 or so self-righteous, BAMN/BlackBloc/Antifa, or whatever the hell our masked avengers call themselves this week, would show up with aggression and hostility in their hearts and make sure they push a small number of extremists around, punch them, and dominate the news cycle. You knew this would happen no matter how many thousands of peaceful people showed up. We need to stand up to these people. They are harming our community. They distract the media from what we are fighting. What we are fighting here is white supremacy. Comment #2: I’m not all that excited that 4,000 mostly white people showed up in Berkeley to protest what in our community amounts to an extremely small fringe group who have zero impact on how we live day to day, and congratulated themselves about how they’re fighting Nazis and KKK types. Look at our community and you will see that how we live day to day supports institutionalized white supremacy. Start with R-1 zoning which protects white privilege in housing, move on to the underfunded AC Transit system which many people of color depend on because car ownership is too expensive, look at all the laws and regulations, starting with the U.S Constitution and moving on down to our regional transit and air pollution agencies that prioritize property and profit over people’s health and well being. I love living in Berkeley. Relative to the rest of the nation, we are a deeply progressive community. However, relative to reality, we have a very long way to go to address privilege and build our commons.”

20170828_182727And lastly, my friend who witnessed the beating suggested, ” My view, deeply held, is that massive unity and nonviolence (with appropriate defensive security) is the way toward social progress.  The difference between our side and theirs is that they rely on violence; we need to rely on politics and unity.  If we become the mirror image of them, we lose.”

We can blame the media, we can certainly blame the fascists, the president and his followers who knowingly opened a Pandora’s box of evil and keep it open–but then–we’ll have to decide. We may have a romantic notion that if the communists, free thinkers, and artists who thrived in Germany in the 1920’s had only had more sticks, more street fights or even arms, the Nazis would’ve been beaten back, but I doubt that. I think we’ll find that the fight was already lost by the time those streets fights had begun to take over the life of that country.

I’ll admit I have lots of hate in my little formerly-Quaker heart. I really want to hurt some of those folks that I can never even reach and I think they deserve it. I would attack someone who attacked my own but I just can’t be a bully for other side. Punching down will always be something I feel in my gut is wrong.

I don’t think we are on the verge of  a Brown shirt nation either. So many folks have come out all over the country to stand against hate and white supremacy, In fact I didn’t even think I’d live to see the day that that term is acknowledged as an American problem. 34,000 people signed up to be a on a coalition call that I was on recently to fight white supremacy. Thousands rallied to the airports with almost no warning. We are not that country even though a hateful percentage has been unleashed-our young folks have lived differently than the Trump generation, my generation, they will not accept it and neither will we.

So maybe we need to go home and call our neighbors to do some radical activities like my friend above suggested-fight for local transit and push back when NIMBYS refuse to let low income housing into our neighborhoods, put our kids in public schools and demand they be funded-there’s so much else, much less heroic.  Don’t get me wrong (though I know many will), we should confront this evil and I’m always ready to take to the streets, it’s in my DNA. But I need to know I’m fighting evil not becoming one with it.

                                                                     Addendum

My simple rules for tumultuous times or how not to become a reactionary:

*don’t react with violence towards people with little to no power.
*don’t react with generalizations against the media when they report things you didn’t want them to see.
*don’t react with new (or existing) laws that criminalize people based on association.
*don’t be ready to restrict others speech just because it’s hateful unless they attach actions or the imminent threat of actions to speech.

Or to paraphrase Miranda Rights and any NCIS show you’ve ever seen-no matter who you are, all of the above can and will be used against you.

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