[Ed. Note: IFP received this directly via email from SF Bay WCW]
REPORT from SF BAY World Can’t Wait
July 18, 2008
BERKELEY CA: On June 21, 2008, World Can’t Wait and others mobilized once again at the Marine Recruiting Station (MRS)- this time, because the rightwing pro-war biker-based “Gathering of Eagles” (GOE) had announced a media event to show how much they Support the Troops. Their star attraction was rightwing talk radio screecher Melanie Morgan. Morgan and the GOE came onto the scene as defenders of the Marine recruiters and the war through last February’s “Battle of Berkeley.” They’ve demanded that Berkeley “apologize”for calling for the recruiters to get out of town.
A few of us began the day at 5:15 a.m. The nominally anti-war City of Berkeley had police already guarding the MRS as the sun rose on three CodePINK women chalking the sidewalk with anti-war slogans. Soon, sixteen more officers arrived carrying riot gear. (This was not a surprise; the Berkeley Police Department hyperventilates whenever WCW is coming.)
By 8:30, WCW members were waiting for the GOE, whose publicity claimed 500 bikers would soon arrive to support the recruiters. It was surprisingly quiet, but you could feel the tension, anticipation and excitement as more activists with signs, banners and serious orange began to gather. Other groups joining us were Revolution Club, 911 Truth, CodePINK and A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, and all day other folks showed up too. For the next five hours, together we succeeded in standing against the war and the recruitment of our youth. (The 24-hour live camera installed by FOX News on a building across the street was presumably streaming all this live.)
Imagine what it would mean if in Berkeley of all places, pro-war “love it or leave it” bikers could belligerently demonstrate SUPPORTING THE WAR without any resistance. These right-wing foot-soldiers for the empire (and that is the job they are doing, whether individuals in GOE intend to or not) really mean it: no city can be allowed to stand up against the war or the recruiters who serve it. Think about what it would mean to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan (and now Iran too!) if Berkeley were to “apologize.” Not only can we NOT apologize, we’ve got to build even stronger resistance. (In fact a local Iranian merchant has recently come to take photos of our MRS protests to post on Iranian websites. He’s told us with great emotion that right now our actions mean a great deal to people in Iran.)
The two-sided confrontation lasted for hours. GOE had a permit so they had the sidewalk and doorway of the MRS, and a big sound system. But instead of staying across the street, WCW took our chants, signs, and our bold understanding of the real truth of this war and these recruiters ““ and we went right into their midst. All morning our chanting was interspersed with constant face-to-face conversation: our all-ages, very orange crew challenging the GOE’s older and very red-white-and-blue crew. The GOE never numbered over 100 ““ including their people who stayed safely across the street under the FOX surveillance camera, waving American and Marine Corps flags, and constantly filming us. Our numbers were less than theirs, but we were able to have considerable interaction. Many confrontations that nearly got out of hand were expertly handled by WCW activists to avoid violence. There were a few incidents, like when a biker bully intimidated a youth and then hit him — while Berkeley police stood by and watched, doing nothing. Protesters gathered round and with our show of our numbers, we sent the bully on his way screaming and screeching. When questioned about why they just stood watching as the biker attacked the youth, an officer explained “That’s not what we’re here for.” (A complaint is being filed.) In fact the police only roused themselves when the PRO-war people complained that somehow our chants and verbal challenges made them feel “threatened,” which shows why the police were there: to protect the message of Melanie Morgan and her band of warmongers. (And no, the mainstream local media did not cover the fact that our counter-demonstration effectively prevented the entire GOE media stunt from coming off as planned).
Well, it’s obvious why right-wing political assaults like the GOE invading downtown Berkeley have to be countered. But it’s also true that we ourselves can learn something from close-up encounters like this. We realize that the leaders of groups like GOE aren’t particularly interested in rational political dialogue, or in real facts about how destructive and wrong the U.S.’s endless war on the world is for the people of the world. Melanie Morgan is a political operative, a tiny cog in a whole network of right-wing and neo-fascist elements connecting forces like the Horowitzers and Young Republicans, right-wing talk radio, and anti-immigrant vigilantes. However, some of the vets and others who are at this moment part of that camp are not without their own contradictions The WCW Call says “”¦we speak for the majority, here and around the world, and as we get this going we are going to reach out to the people who have been so badly fooled by Bush”¦” Some of these “badly fooled” people were right there at the MRS.
* A lot of the GOE are (or say they are) military vets. We got into debates about American history, about what happens when America goes to war, about what the real world is really like, about the “official truths” that go with those wars ““ Iraq had no WMDs, Vietnamese villages had to be destroyed to save them, America wages wars to protect freedom and democracy. Some GOEs were willing to argue. Others weren’t. We told people if they didn’t believe us they could go online and check out the Winter Soldier hearings.
* Some of the GOE men got very enraged at seeing our mixed-nationality crew, and to those in our group who aren’t white, they’d spit in our faces: “Where are you from? Where are you from?” We’d say, “I’m from the world, what about you?” The GOE side included some Latinos, and a few Native Americans and African Americans too. Some of these people were hearing and watching us as we’d argue right back, asking these men why they think living in the U.S. makes them more special than other people.
* There were women in the GOE, too. A lot of times it was hard to get the conversation past the level of them just insulting us or yelling how we the protestors are wrong because people have to support the troops. But we persisted. There were not any youth in their group, however.
* One Latino biker was especially belligerent and loud, and one of us started arguing with him in Spanish. After a while, another WCW guy came up to the guy’s buddies and asked them if they thought America should be an English-only country? Their unanimous reply, of course: “HELL YEAH!” So he walked back over and interrupted: “Hey man, your buddies over here don’t think you should be speaking Spanish!” We wish a camera had captured the look on this biker’s face as he tried to process that while continuing to argue (although now in English!) how America is the best country in the world, but casting uneasy glances at his “friends.”
* Some of the GOE wear Confederate flag patches. We started lots of conversations by demanding to know how anyone today could uphold slavery. Usually the guys wearing the Confederate flag weren’t going to listen, but it was crowded and lots of people could hear. And it wasn’t only Black people in the GOE crew whose bravado fell a few notches as we hammered on our questions: “Are you sorry the South lost the Civil War? How far back do you want to go? Back to segregation? Back to lynching? Back to slavery? How far?”
* We tried to avoid name-calling, and we tried to keep our agitation, chants, and arguments focussed on the real world: (“One million Iraqis dead ““ is THAT what you support?” “¦ “Murder, rape, torture, war ““ that’s what they’re recruiting for!” “¦ “Fallujah, Haditha, Guantanamo Bay! This is the truth the recruiters don’t say!”) We kept sticking to the actual facts of history and the present, and demanding the GOEs defend the wars and torture as good for the majority of people in the world; we kept insisting people say these things are good or bad. We listened to their arguments, and then we’d expose why they were wrong. But beyond any single fact, we also came back time and again to why it’s so wrong for people living in this country to think the lives of Americans are more important than other people’s lives. As the morning went on, some of the GOE people retreated from more debate with us; they kept running out of arguments long before we did. And others started telling us that they’re vets, or patriots, or loyal Americans, and”¦. “I actually DON’T support the war”¦ [or sometimes, "I hate George Bush"¦"], but we HAVE TO support the troops!”
Melanie Morgan showed up eventually. Her rah-rah-America-Number-One speech was hard to hear because someone ““ a lot of someones ““ let the voices of the Iraqi and Afghani people be heard. We had on display lots of photos and color displays of the war crimes we’re trying to stop. Now we crowded in around the speaker area and there was much screaming, and sirens, filling the air with what this war actually sounds like. Morgan ended her speech and then introduced GOE’s climax: recorded “patriotic music.” First she “dedicated this song to World Can’t Wait” — and played Taps. We yelled, “Are you mourning the million Iraqi people killed in this war based on lies?” As she left the stage, we could not believe our ears as the chords crescendoed into — the Battle Hymn of the Republic. We started right in agitating over the music: “Wrong song! Wrong side! Do you know the lyrics? Don’t you know American history? Do you realize who John Brown was? That song is about the abolitionists! It’s against slavery! This song supports everything you’d have been against! You’d better stop playing it right now! You’ll get confused!”
From their expressions, at least some of the GOEs found this information new and shocking. Soon afterward, they turned off their music, said it was lunchtime, and repeated their big announcement about reversing their previous boycott of Berkeley businesses. Instead, every GOE protestor would now go buy lunch and gas for their hogs, especially patronizing all the businesses who now display pro-war window signs (they named all three, to big cheers). And to show their power, today the GOE was going to spend only $2 bills , so Berkeley merchants could see how much their livelihoods are threatened if they don’t hurry to apologize, stop opposing the war, and start supporting the troops. With this terrible threat, the GOE mounted up, gunned their motors, and rode off.
We ourselves circled up for a closing rally. People talked about why we had come out today, how we will continue, and what difference we are determined to make by continuing. The pro-war bikers come around once in a while. The military recruiters are preying on our youth every day. And WCW has plans to gear up all summer long so that by September especially the high school youth are ready to not only join into more protests, but spread this resistance throughout this community and this whole Bay Area.
Recruiters out! Stop the War! This is worth everyone fighting for.