First hand account of the Berkeley rally

Many of us are still thinking about Charlottesville and its aftermath in our own communities. As local grassroots activists, we need to remind ourselves of the local lived experience and not lose that perspective amidst the wider national media narrative.

I was at the August 27 Bay Area Rally Against Hate in Berkeley, and I want to share my experience as a contrast to the few incidents of violence that have gotten so much attention in the media and by word of mouth. I was surrounded by hundreds of people who I believe had similar experiences to mine, which were totally different from the impressions the public is being given.

The Rally was supposed to be held on the Crescent Lawn, UC Berkeley campus, but police barricaded the lawn the night before, leaving only one small entrance/exit. For reasons including safety and accessibility, people moved instead onto the street below the Lawn.

The Rally was organized in part by SEIU, and many Union members in orange vests did a great job of guiding participants safely and directing the traffic we were interrupting. As we started filling in the intersection, a police officer on a motorcycle got in the middle and started riding in a circle. Some people started chanting that the police were unwanted, while others chanted thank you to the police. The officer left, and things progressed peacefully.

More people arrived, including people passing out socialist and Marxist materials, teachers representing their schools or subjects, union members, families, people from various faiths — a lot of diversity, very Berkeley. Since the right-wing event had been advertised as anti-Marxist, many people had Groucho Marx glasses on.

Berkeley Rally Against Hate

There were speakers: representatives from the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, a Berkeley Synagogue, an organizer from Boston, Idle No More, and others. They each had their own perspectives, but overall the message was that all of us from different backgrounds and with different priorities stand united against the growing threat of extremism and racist hatred, and that while we want to keep hateful and violent individuals out of our cities, the root of these ideologies is in our culture and our politics, and we must do more than just driving them into silence to eradicate these home-grown ideas.

After the speeches, the organizers escorted anyone who wanted to leave to BART. The rest of us marched, without incident, toward Martin Luther King Jr Civic Center Park, where the “No to Marxism” rally and counter-protest were happening. The area around the Park was pretty crowded; I and those with me were not close enough to see the Park. Eventually, organizers led the marchers south on Milvia toward BART—we couldn’t figure out what was going on, so we followed. After several blocks, the head of the march stopped and started directing people either to BART or back to the Park. My group rested for a while and then, walking back toward downtown, we saw another march that appeared to be primarily faith and religious groups heading toward the park. They were joyful, peaceful, and singing hymns.

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We checked social media and learned there had been some fights between protesters, and some tear gas and smoke bombs released by the police. We hadn’t seen any of this and wouldn’t have known from being there.

White Supremacists, In Berkeley? Noooooo!!

As mentioned in last week’s newsletter and blog post, Indivisible East Bay decided to endorse the Bay Area Rally Against Hate, scheduled for Sunday August 27 from 10:30-12:30 pm at the UC Berkeley Crescent Lawn, near Addison and Oxford. The Rally was planned as a peaceful counter-protest to a white nationalist group’s posting on social media about an event called “No To Marxism,” scheduled for Sunday at MLK Civic Center Park in Berkeley from 1:00-5:00 pm. “No To Marxism” did not seek a permit, and none has been granted.

Many of us watched the special Berkeley City Council meeting last Friday, at which the Council and public aired concerns regarding the planned white nationalist event and counter protests. The Council passed an ordinance giving the City Manager power to issue temporary regulations of unpermitted protests.  While Saturday’s massive counter-protest in Boston shows that counter-demos can be effective and peaceful, the City of Berkeley is encouraging people to “stay away from conflict” and it’s uncertain how many people will turn out on Sunday.

Many of you have been asking us about IEB’s participation in Sunday’s events. After much discussion among ourselves, and considering what other groups and organizations are planning, we’re offering our members the following information.

At the time of this post, individual members of several local Indivisible groups, including Indivisible East Bay, Indivisible El Sobrante, Poinsett Indivisible, and ReSisterhood do not feel they can “stay away” when white supremacists and Nazis invade our town. Many of us plan to attend the Rally Against Hate, which we note has been endorsed by more than a hundred groups and organizations.

Crescent Lawn UCB

We invite Indivisible East Bay members to join us; however, each individual must consider what level of risk they can tolerate, as it’s possible there could be violence or aggression even at the counter-protest. If you do want to gather with us, we’ll meet at 10:15 am at the top of the “crescent” of the Crescent Lawn, near the concrete walls. Once the counter-rally ends at 12:30, IEB’s participation for the afternoon will be over. While some groups are planning to march to the white nationalist rally, the IEB group is not doing so although obviously each member will make their own decision.

And if you’d like to join us on Sunday, here are some suggestions:

  • Wear your IEB or Resist shirts!
  • Make handheld signs  or use cardboard tubes as poles
  • Come with a buddy, or make new friends there to hang out with. Watch their back and they’ll watch yours. Share phone numbers
  • Engage with other Indivisibles, resistance groups and allies
  • Bring sunscreen, water, and energy bars
  • Consider whether to bring children and pets
  • Establish an exit route and/or emergency meeting area north of campus
  • Be aware of conditions around you and understand that the situation is unpredictable and safety cannot be guaranteed

Again, we all have different comfort levels and there’s no guilt if you decide to stay away. Some IEB members are choosing other ways to protest:

  • Download and read the Southern Poverty Law Center’s excellent guide: Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide
  • Attend a Day of Service and Solidarity with Urban Tilth at the North Richmond Farm on August 26 from 10 am to 1 pm
  • Create Resist signs for windows
  • Amplify our voice by retweeting and/or sharing on Facebook any IEB social media posts that day. Follow our public FB page and our twitter account, and help us push out our postings, including those with hashtags #IEBUnitedAgainstH8 or #IEBResists
  • Finally, the local interfaith community has taken a leading role in organizing to counter the alt-right, white supremacist and anti-Semitic gathering. Several different faith groups and congregations are planning to participate in various actions. Many of them will gather on Sunday at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way, between 12:15 and 13:30 pm. See details here if you’re interested in joining with them

As the situation will likely change leading up to Sunday morning, please email info@indivisibleeb.org with “Resisting” in the subject line to stay updated on IEB’s plans.

On the Rally Against Hate

On August 27, a demonstration called “No to Marxism in America” is scheduled in Berkeley as part of a weekend of white supremacist events in the Bay Area. This event appears to be planned by many of the same people that planned similar events earlier this year in Berkeley, including white nationalist and white supremacist groups like Identity Evropa. Especially in light of the events in Charlottesville on August 12, Indivisible East Bay believes it is important to alert our membership to this upcoming rally.

An organization called Unite for Freedom from Right Wing Violence in the Bay Area has planned a peaceful counter-protest for the same day. This counter-protest will take place several blocks from the right-wing rally, and the organizers have assured us that keeping the event peaceful and safe are their top priorities. As such, we have endorsed the event. We believe it is important to oppose ideologies of white supremacy in our community, and are proud to stand indivisible with Unite and the others endorsing this event.

However, we recognize that despite all best efforts and intentions there is still a real possibility of violence. The events in Charlottesville made clear what we already knew: Trump supporters and white nationalists and supremacists can be deadly violent. We also note the possibility of violence from counter-protesters; we don’t equate these individuals or groups in any way with any neo-Nazi, KKK, white supremacist, etc. groups or individuals, but any use of violence is incompatible with IEB’s Code of Conduct. This danger isn’t just limited to those who attend the counter-protest: Trump supporters at previous rallies this year marched around the Berkeley Downtown area and antagonized bystanders as they went about their regular business. And so we want to warn all of our members of the danger that this “No to Marxism in America” brings to Berkeley, especially if they choose to attend the counter-protest.

Take caution when in the Downtown Berkeley area on August 27.

 

In solidarity,

Indivisible East Bay

Standing in Solidarity with Charlottesville

Heather HeyerShortly after the 2016 election Heather Heyer posted the words “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” on her Facebook page, and because white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr murdered Heather by ramming his car into her and fellow counter-protesters as they stood up to the Nazis and white nationalists who brought violence and hatred to Charlottesville, those words are now her last on that forum.

We ARE paying attention, and the events of August 12 have shocked and horrified – and yes Heather, outraged us. But the many hundreds of vigils and marches across the country held last weekend, with more being planned every day, prove that we are vast in number. They console us and firm our resolve.Charlottesville events mapWe are indivisible against white supremacists and Nazis, and the tacit approval this administration provides for them. We are outraged by the pitiful, too-little too-late bleatings of Trump in (not) calling out Fields’ attack, in continuing to employ extremists Steven Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Steven Miller in his administration.

Many vigils were held in the Bay Area. IEB member Heidi reports on one — Charlottesville candellight circleMore than 120 people flocked to our candlelight circle at sundown in an El Cerrito neighborhood park. We began with a moment of silence, then people spoke out about the effects of hatred on our lives and the need to stand up and fight back, particularly for our children.Charlottesville candellight circleAn immigrant from Germany spoke with horror about seeing Nazis in his adopted country, and discussed the law imposed on Germans after the fall of the Third Reich prohibiting public display of Nazi symbols. The voice of a 93-year old veteran of World War II was filled with grief as he talked about defeating Nazis in his youth, only to find them infesting our country at the end of his life.Charlottesville candellight circleOthers read poems or talked with strength and passion about their fears and resolve, and we sang together. Charlottesville candellight circleAnd throughout we held our candles high to fight the darkness.