Berkeley Finds a New Way to Make War Politics Local
BERKELEY, Calif. - While the City Council here has little - read, no - sway over foreign policy and distant wars, local parking is a different matter. And so it was that a parking space directly in front of the recruiting station here for the Marine Corps was awarded on Tuesday night to an antiwar group in the hope of running the Marines out of town.
Having failed in recent years to impeach President Bush and stop the war in Afghanistan, members of the City Council approved a resolution that encourages people to nonviolently "impede, passively or actively," the work of the recruiters.
To that end, the council awarded the group, Code Pink, exclusive use of the parking spot for four hours one afternoon each week, for the next six months, to stage its protests. "If you're going to join the Marines, you're going to join the Marines," said Zanna Joi, an activist with Code Pink, which favors cotton-candy-colored garb and in-your-face tactics. "But you don't have to join the Marines from our town."
In taking on the Marines, the council also directed the city attorney to investigate legal means of ousting the recruiting station, calling the Marines "uninvited and unwelcome intruders" in this bastion of liberal politics, 1960s free speech and high-minded nonbinding resolutions.
Tom Bates, the city's mayor and a former Army man himself, said the vote represented his constituents' longstanding - and frequently vocal - distaste for current military activity.
"Berkeley has been opposed to the Iraq war since the beginning; it's overwhelmingly unpopular in this community," Mr. Bates said. "And people feel this is an opportunity to express their discontent."
One of the nine council members, Gordon Wozniak, opposed the resolution and the parking spot.
"I believe in free speech, and I certainly respect the right of Code Pink to protest," Mr. Wozniak said. "But I'm also concerned we treat all sides fairly, and I think the Marines recruiters are just doing their job. They're not evil people."
Mr. Wozniak, a retired nuclear scientist who opposes the war in Iraq, added that those advocating the parking spot were engaged in the same type of selective treatment that many war opponents object to.
"A lot of the same people who voted for this felt Bush bent the rules," Mr. Wozniak said, referring to the president's unfounded claims that Iraq had chemical, nuclear or biological weapons.
This is hardly the first attempt by Berkeley's civic leaders, many of whom fondly remember the city's antiwar heyday in the 1960s, to express their unhappiness with the whole concept of war. In 2006, the City Council and voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure calling for the impeachment of Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, citing "high crimes and misdemeanors" related to the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism.
In 2001, the City Council also called for an end to the bombing of Afghanistan just weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, something that earned some council members anonymous death threats.
Despite the vote on Tuesday, Mr. Bates said it was not clear if the city could actually force the Marines to move out of town.
"They still have a year and a half on their lease," he said.
That said, the resolution also calls for the city attorney to look into possible violations of the Berkeley municipal code regarding sexual discrimination by the Marines, and asks the city manager to write the Marine commandant and tell him that Semper Fi fans are "not welcome in our city."
Maj. Wes Hayes of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Quantico, Va., said the corps had not immediately been aware of Berkeley's actions, but added that they would have no effect on recruiting efforts.
"It's business as usual," Major Hayes said.
Inside the Berkeley office, a small storefront a block from the University of California campus, a pull-up bar sits near the window as does a pile of weights, part of the physical fitness test for any potential leathernecks. A poster on the wall reminds recruiters not "to fear the winds of adversity."
After being open earlier in the day, the front door was locked and the window blinds drawn on Thursday afternoon, at least for a while, as Code Pink protesters chanted happily outside.
Brandon Rousseau, an information technology consultant who works across the street and has a cousin in the Marines, said both sides had a right to go about their business.
"Even if that were a Nazi recruiting station," Mr. Rousseau said, "they have a right to do that in America."
© 2008 The New York Times