As a Southerner, I have watched the Berkeley vs. U.S. Marines brouhaha with a very keen interest. I'm not all that sure those people in Berkeley know what can happen to people who decide to mess around with the United States government.
Somebody really ought to clue those folks in with a little reality check.
So far, I haven't seen any official calls for their little bayshore city to be surrounded by an armed force of Navy, Marines, Army and National Guard and blockaded from the rest of the country. But they should take a lesson from the likes of us whose ancestors tried stunts like this in the past, and do a more hasty and substantial retreat before they have to find out for themselves just how hard it can be to face off with the Union.
Right now, they seem to be thinking that their little scuffle is with George W. Bush, the man, and not the President of the United States of America. They seem to be thinking that the Marines are a bunch of unattached mercenaries, and not the constitutionally formed fighting force of the United States. They seem not to understand the meaning of the courtroom phrase: John Doe Vs. the People of the United States of America.
The people of the United States of America don't take too kindly to those little independent jurisdictions that fool around with the constitutional rights of plain ole' ordinary citizens, much less the Marine Corps.
What can the Berkeley City Council be thinking?
In October 2006, the United States Marines opened a small recruiting office in the center of Berkeley, California within blocks of Berkeley City College, UC Berkeley and Berkeley High School. The recruiting office operated quite peacefully until about 4 months ago, when the ladies of Code Pink decided that the Marines do not have the same free-speech rights as other citizens. Code Pink decided to daily protest the recruitment office in an attempt to get the Marines out of town. This protest has taken various forms, aggravating perhaps, but for the most part peaceful.
Things began to heat up last week when the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution calling the Marines "unwelcome intruders" and asserting that the council would support all citizens who "volunteer to impede, passively or actively, by nonviolent means, the work of any military recruiting office located in the City of Berkeley." In addition, the council decided to give Code Pink a parking space across from the recruiting center, in which to hold demonstrations without paying a permit fee. Code Pink was also granted a sound license to blast loud messages aimed at the recruiters and those entering.
Emboldened by city support, activists with World Can't Wait last week donned the orange jumpsuits, symbolic of Guantanamo detainees, and chained themselves to the door of the Marines' office, thereby preventing entry. For five hours, Berkeley police watched as people were blocked from going in the recruiting office, and refused to intervene. Then, at the insistent behest of Marine Corps officials, three misdemeanor arrests of demonstrators were finally made.
In response to the Berkeley City Council's actions against our Marines, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) made the decision to introduce legislation stopping $2 million in federal earmark funds intended for various Berkeley projects, saying "This is a slap in the face to all brave service men and women and their families. The First Amendment gives the City of Berkeley the right to be idiotic, but from now on they should do it with their own money."
By 5:00 a.m. Tuesday, the developing controversy reached fever pitch when at least 2,000 protestors convened on both sides of the issue.
For the Marines, over a thousand volunteers from Move America Forward and Blue Star Families convened in Berkeley, carrying American flags and singing patriotic anthems like America the Beautiful and God Bless America.
Against the Marines, Code Pink and World Can't Wait garnered hundreds too, waving banners proclaiming among other sentiments:
"Join the Marines. Travel to exotic lands. Meet exciting unusual people. AND KILL THEM."
"No Military Predators in Our Town."
First Amendment Battle Ensues
By 6:00 a.m., things began to heat up and get downright ugly.
Two Blue Star moms were threatened with violence and one was shoved by a Code Pink lady, and when the mom called the Berkeley police for help, they hung up on her. Another call to the police was made by someone else with the same response.
Melanie Morgan, spokeswoman for Move America Forward, was in the middle of her morning KSFO radio program, called in from the scene in Berkeley. She told me yesterday that she honestly could not believe what was happening, and might not have believed it if she had not seen it with her own eyes.
The scene she encountered was one of "near mayhem," she told me. Cursing, shouting, profanities being hurled at moms and dads waving small American flags in support of our armed services.
Then high school students showed up. The students donned yellow and black "Palestinian" masks and t-shirts emblazoned with the charming slogan: "F*** Bush." Riding skateboards, they rammed into Move America Forward and Blue Star Families' peaceful protest. Some of the teens grabbed American flags from the hands of soldiers' moms and dads, and set them afire right in front of the startled parents. Police did nothing.
When I spoke today with Mark Coplan, Director of the Public Information Office for the Berkeley Unified School District, he was just as upset about the teen participation as was Melanie Morgan. These teens, he said, were recruited by World Can't Wait to "disrupt the peaceful protest."
According to Mr. Coplan, this teen recruitment has been a common strategy of World Can't Wait agitators, who have clashed with school authorities repeatedly in the past. Mr. Coplan was onsite at the demonstration himself, to make sure that students and teachers who had permission to observe the demonstration from a distance were not breaking the district's admonitions. He told me that he himself heard World Can't Wait demonstrators tell the students they had brought that they "did not have to listen to or obey any police instructions," that "they were participating in democracy at work," and that he personally saw older adults using teens as shields to harass and shove the peaceful counter-demonstrators.
World Can't Wait is an organization started in 2005 to actively thwart the American war effort. Its founder, Charles Clark Kissinger, is a Maoist and longtime leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who has stated his intention to organize "people living in the United States to take responsibility to stop the whole disastrous course led by the Bush administration." By "disastrous course" he means the war, specifically. And of course, Code Pink's most visible spokesperson, Medea Benjamin, says her idea of heaven on earth is Castro's Cuba. Benjamin, readers may remember, is the patriotic American who spearheaded the effort in 2004 to hand over $600,000 in cash and supplies to the terrorist "insurgents" in Fallujah, Iraq. Why isn't that an act of treason? I must be too unsophisticated to understand.
So, we shouldn't be surprised when shameful un-American tactics are used by these people, as they were Tuesday in Berkeley.
But when a civil authority, such as the Berkeley Police, stand by while people are abridging the First Amendment rights of other citizens, then there is a huge problem.
Move America Forward has an attorney. He has written a formal protest letter to the City of Berkeley, citing numerous infractions of his client's First Amendment Rights, with the appearance of help from the police, and a lawsuit against the city is being considered.
Even though the Berkeley City Council went through the motions Tuesday night, listened to both sides of the Marine debate, and agreed to soften the language of its request to the Marines to vacate, not much has changed.
Code Pink gets to keep their parking space next to the recruiting center. They get to keep their cost-free permit to continue their agitating activities. And since Code Pink has posted a photo of Berkeley's mayor, Tom Bates, sporting a nauseatingly pink beret while he himself demonstrates with Code Pink at the recruitment office, I really don't think Berkeley has gotten the message.
So here's a clue from the whole South to those brazen folks in Berkeley:
The people of the United States of America do not possess unlimited patience with those who feel themselves above the Constitution that protects us all.
And y'all don't want to feel the wrath of Uncle Sam when he's had enough.