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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A Letter from the Democratic Party.. I want to receive

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We need to hear swiftly, definitively and defiantly from our leaders in the disloyal opposition before we let the winner of the Electoral College debacle into the White House. This is what I’m asking them to say, but first they must account for their many failures.

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We recognize that many are suffering in this country and around the world, especially since the economic crash brought on by Republican politics and the wars in the Middle East, terrorism and fears of it also brought on by NeoCon policies during the Bush years.

We accept full responsibility for acquiescing to those policies sometimes with our votes and often with our silence while knowing full well that the devastation wreaked in faraway places would drain our people of needed resources while enraging the residents of those far places.

We admit that no American banker or oligarch was jailed while families lost their homes, their pensions and their hopes for the future. Even as that continues to happen, the bodies of small children wash ashore in the Mediterranean as a result of those disastrous votes and the funds to back them. We never told the American people the truth about how that happened nor of our responsibility in it. We must start now!

The same can be said of  Central American families seeking refuge from murderous regimes while we jail and deport families back to lands they may not know or to violent cities and countrysides from which they fled.

We have been complicit in putting our population under surveillance and lying about it while hunting down those who would expose the rumors as truth-giving rise to far fetched conspiracy theories and the complete loss of trust in our democracy.

There is more in which we have been complicit, privatizing our schools, denigrating our union movement, and ignoring the unfathomable fear that has replaced the American dream. We even told our citizens that education was a necessity while making a profit off of those who have worked so hard to achieve it, along the way, indebting an entire generation out of their birthright.

We spent decades building prisons lest Black Americans attempted to seek their long-ago-earned part of the American Dream-whose only compensation for their hard work has been more restrictions including death for shopping, driving, working, walking, breathing. Many of us never stood up for our first Black president when he sought solutions for all working Americans while taking on all of the old festering problems of a dying republic.

Now that the pathway to facism, destruction of the planet, and targeting of whole swathes of our population has been made manifest, we declare:  2016-11-14-11-51-29

To prevent the acceptance of any court nominee (Supreme or lower) who does not uphold individual rights, voting rights, rights of women and people of any gender to control their bodies, the rights of workers and consumers, and the most basic right-that of the planet to continue to make human habitation possible. We further assert that the 4th Amendment to the Constitution be reinstated-the right to be safe in our persons being the most basic and necessary to survival.

To prevent cuts in funding to any marginalized group (as defined by Dave Chappell) including our elders, our children, our students, and those who have long lived without the protections and benefits others have taken for granted.

To prevent violations of our communal property-parks, schools, housing, and health, including ending fracking, mining public lands and other acts of destruction in order to provide cheap energy and subsidizing communal needs.

To reassess the need for and usefulness of the FBI, NSA, and especially the CIA while eliminating funding for military hardware, including in our cities and for our local law-enforcement agencies. 20161113_153003

To maintain and spread the prohibition against private prisons, indeterminate sentencing, jailing people who cannot pay fines (debtors’ prisons,) cruel and unusual punishment-oh hell-just really read the Bill of Rights and stop trying to limit them-with one addendum that they not be limited to men, or white folks or straight folks or restricted for those with disabilities/differences or those born in other places than these 52 states (which must include Puerto Rico and DC.)

To stop the border wall and close border detention/concentration camps, registration of immigrants or religious groups.

To demand a basic income for all Americans including healthcare, childcare and higher education. We vow to educate Americans to the true cost of privatizing all these needs and the ways in which we can all contribute to the betterment of our country through fair taxation.

To rebuilding our decaying infrastructure and restarting our leadership in innovation including making internet and information access available at low or no cost to our country’s families, families not defined by one type-by training and hiring those at the bottom of the pay scale first.

We refuse just to fight against reaction and nihilism but to demand a better life for all of us, including those in other corners of the globe. We will fight to be the beacon-we-always-pretended-we-were and not-in-some-1950’s-fantasy but as our best angels might envision us.

This is a long expensive list, it’s true but if we really want to be great as never before, we have to tackle a future where everyone can live, thrive, and have the opportunity to pursue even a modicum of happiness.

Signed,

The Democratic Party of the United States of America

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#BlackLivesMatter, Bernie, and me, an Old White Lady Speaks

As Obama’s days in office wind down, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is picking up and maybe that’s not a coincidence. At the same time that the movement against wealth inequality has found its candidate in Bernie Sanders, many are wondering if he understands the urgency of ending White Supremacy, and they were wondering this before his appearance at NetRoots Nation.

So let me start with my own confession as a white woman, an old one at that. I watched the takeover on stage of Bernie’s speech, the part I could see on video, and remembered the city council takeover here in Oakland. I experienced a mix of emotions while watching both.

On the one hand, at the city council meeting I was genuinely annoyed that the meeting I had been waiting for-in order to speak to the council in support of a long fought battle to strengthen the Citizens’ Police Review Board-was not going to happen. As the city had inexplicably pulled our item from the previous meeting agenda, an item that we have reason to believe might curtail police brutality, I thought, wait, not now, you didn’t tell/ask me!

Yeah, folks I’ll admit to being miffed at being left out of that discussion, and I saw that some people at that meeting were a bit frightened given that a week before Oakland’s downtown had seen an unusual amount of smashy-smashy. I even tweeted about our need to be heard at the meeting.

But, if you look back, you have to give it to the folks who planned that action, it stopped a vote that might have eventually been stopped by a lawsuit, but the action emboldened young activists who were members of #BlackLivesMatter and #AsiansforBlackLivesMatter to take the process over when their voices weren’t being heard; and they got a victory, a big victory.

And therein lies the rub. Your average middle class, middle-of-the-road Oaklander/American doesn’t feel comfortable with people who don’t follow the rules. Interestingly, when I wrote a blog denouncing the city’s measures to limit public seating at its meetings after that, some of my more progressive friends disagreed with me.

Fast forward to Bernie’s appearance at the NetRoots Nation event, and that’s how lots of my movement white friends, certainly not all, responded to the shouting down of their beloved Bernie Sanders. How did I feel when watching? I felt: pained, pained that Bernie didn’t have a clue how to respond and worried because he needs Black activism to succeed-just when we had begun to believe that he is a serious candidate-saddened that he didn’t seem to understand the differences between his economic agenda and one that seeks to end institutional racism, pissed off a little that he was exposed this way and something else, elated.

Yes, elated that the #BlackLivesMatter folks are so courageous and effective. That was truly Shakespearean. They addressed the audience and the candidates (or the other actors in our presidential play) and said, something’s rotten in Oakland/America. And the Bush era of restrictive “free speech zones” like I experienced when Hillary came to Oakland back in 2007 are over, thank god (See http://grandlakeguardian.org/index.php/drake/2007/10/08/sunday_rally_for_hillary_clinton .)

You might say that’s what Bernie is also talking about to audiences of thousands. Yeah, he is, but he has missed a big hunk of our reality, a steaming pile of smelly shit-white supremacy-institutional racism-the urgency of people dying at the hands of the state for no other reason than being Black. And that doesn’t even cover the reality of the everyday lives of Black and Brown people who live in rotting neighborhoods, go to worn out schools and languish in jails that resemble the Bastille.

I’m lucky. There are members of my family who are Black (biracial if you will, or African-American if Black is too straightforward for you.) They check me when I make stupid, naive or even offensive comments if I haven’t been able to check myself first. Maybe as a Leftist I would care as much without their prodding, but really, it wouldn’t be something I would think about every day. No one wants to have to focus on racism everyday but some folks, obviously, have no choice.

So what’s the problem, is Bernie a traditional old lefty who really believes that class trumps everything? Quite possibly-even though all the evidence for anyone with eyes to see and a heart to feel-will tell you that a relatively wealthy, even a very wealthy person-of-color, will still experience the destructive force of white supremacy at many points in their lives. So long as racism is a deep, almost impenetrable part of our nature as Americans, there is no hiding place, no safe house, no shelter from its ugliness, its deadly consequences. This movement, some call it the New Civil Rights Movement, using social media, is addressing what has existed but been invisible to white Americans for so long.

So on facebook and my local Democratic club listserve, for instance, when I brought up that Bernie, despite his huge turnouts had recently failed a test at NetRoots Nation, the response surprised me. Some found the problem with the #BlackLivesMatter folks and some with Bernie. Most missed the point.

In fact the first response I often saw from old Lefties was that perhaps this was a conspiracy by Hillary’s people to damage Bernie to which I have to say, paranoia only gets us so far. BUT even if it were true (and it’s not, that’s dismissive) how come Bernie couldn’t respond by listening or by talking about his plans to dismantle institutionalized racism? He saw what they said to O’Malley yet decided to carry on with his usual speech.

The comments ranged from, “I am at a loss to understand the tactics of shouting down speakers. I have always been at a loss to understand that kind of action be it from the Left or the Right. Let’s work to solve the problem of racism in America and not make it worse by helping elect Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. Those who make progressive candidates look bad in the press especially when the candidates have done or said significant things about issue in the past help the opposition not their cause.”

Or, “Were there meetings with Sanders beforehand by the BLM folks? The gal who spoke was speaking out of emotion. The issue is very important, and very emotional. So are lots of others. What will we see next? Pro-Palestinian folks storm the stage at the next Bernie event? Gun control activists? Global warming folks?” True but that’s not the problem of the people who are leading the campaign against white racism, a movement, which does, in fact, work in coalition with most of those other folks. The point Bernie’s defenders are missing is that he cannot succeed if Black voters doubt his concern and his sincerity (Bernie’s strength, normally.)

Given our knowledge of the “new Jim Crow” times we are in, this comment kinda blew me away, “ALL of the issues are important because ALL lives matter. Factions need to learn to work together so we can accomplish better lives for all of us. We need to be a coalition, not individual groups clamoring to be on stage all the time. People championing individual causes have learned to play to the media for attention (as they needed to). Now they need to step back and stand in solidarity with all of the people this system is crushing.” It’s not a bad statement, clearly one that is knowledgeable but the, “now they need to step back,” was all I could see. Really, you wanna tell Black folk and other POC to step back, to wait, seriously?

A white woman who was there described the impact on her, “I would not say the goal was to shout down either candidate……This candidates’ forum was large and well attended. So besides just addressing the candidates, it seemed they wanted the conference/activists to engage on the issues of police brutality and the loss of black lives, and this was the best opportunity to be really visible….Many were crying. It was powerful and emotional for me to witness and for all the participants. It was close to the stage and I was next to them, clearly witnessing all as it unfolded.”

She went on, “Bernie really should have dropped the script and taken the moment to show empathy and connection to those activists right when he walked on stage. Instead he came off like a cold, political operative. He could have just said, ” I feel your pain, black lives matter and I absolutely want to engage with you to address these issues”. And she added that “He really appeared like a very disconnected old white guy at that moment. He then dashed off stage without a goodbye. He had scheduled a smaller meeting after with some black leaders which he canceled.”

Another one of my friends looked up Bernie’s statements on the issues involved and had this to say, “I went back and looked at the various statements he has sent out since his campaign began. There is essentially nothing on race. The only message I could find that had to do with our nation’s current turmoil on race was a message of condolence to the families of the people who were murdered in South Carolina. Even that message did not talk about the need for America to move ahead and bring true equality to all its citizens. It just said: ‘we are all with you in our hearts.’ Very inadequate.”

Ashley Yates, one of the organizers, was asked “Why Bernie”, on MSNBC and responded that Bernie is just the person they need to address and I can’t disagree. If he is the one we’ve been waiting for, he needs to respond like he knows something about us, about all of us. Don’t be mad at the activists, irritated maybe, but you might find you’re more disappointed in Bernie, since this is a self-inflicted wound. As Yates said, “We need bold and courageous leadership right now. We don’t need people who are gonna be cowardly and people who are going to be defensive.”

For some of us, the hope that Bernie brings is tinged with the sadness,the beginning of mourning that the White House will return to its previous state of whiteness or as described by Larry Wilmore of the Nightly Show, “The UnBlackening.” Despite whatever disappointments we’ve had with Barack Obama, I will miss his intelligence, his wit, the leadership of his brilliant wife and the sight of his beautiful family, along with his unique outlook on the world. I will miss the time we had a Black president who despite his desire to bridge the gap, got it-you knew he got it.

As an old white lady, I will admit to my moments of irritation with disruption, annoyance with having to prove my progressive, race conscious bonafides over and over, but I am also uplifted when I despair and grateful when I’m angry. These smart young Black, Brown, and Asian women and men are fighting to not only survive their lives but to live them fully and they will not stop for anybody.