Berkeley: Facing Off Over Marine Corps
3 war opponents chain selves to door of recruiting station, and right-wing blogosphere goes ballistic
As the right-wing blogosphere railed and a U.S. senator vowed financial retaliation against the Berkeley City Council for its effort to boot the Marine Corps out of town, three war protesters ratcheted up pressure from the left by chaining themselves Friday to the front door of the downtown Marine recruiting office.
The demonstrators snapped their locks shut at 7 a.m. and spent the next 7 1/2 hours blocking the door, waving and chanting as hundreds of cars driving by honked in support. Finally, at 2:30 p.m., police snipped the chains and arrested them.
Two of the three were cited for blocking a business and released, and the third was booked into jail on an unrelated traffic warrant, police said.
The demonstrators promptly said they will keep protesting outside the recruiting station at 64 Shattuck Square until the Marines leave Berkeley - which is what the City Council advised the service to do in a vote Tuesday night that called the Marines "unwelcome intruders."
The council also voted to allow members of Code Pink, the protest group that helped organize Friday's blockade, to park at a designated space in front of the recruiting office every Wednesday afternoon and operate a loudspeaker.
The council's action apparently made Berkeley the first city in the nation to call for the ouster of a military recruiting station from its borders.
"We made really great statements by blocking the door," said one of the three blockaders, 64-year-old Mary Ann Thomas of Oakland. "It's time we became more articulate about what we're doing."
Conservative bloggers and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., also believe more articulation is necessary - from the opposite side of the political spectrum.
DeMint began drafting legislation Friday to cut $2.1 million in federal funding to Berkeley in a current congressional budget bill and transfer the money to the Marine Corps. The funding would include $750,000 for prospective ferry service, $87,000 for the Berkeley Unified School District nutrition education fund and $243,000 for the Chez Panisse Foundation, which promotes nutritional awareness in school lunch programs.
"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," DeMint said in a statement.
He called the council's vote "a slap in the face to all brave servicemen and women and their families."
Conservative blogs blasted the council and Berkeley in general all day with comments such as one on "Gathering of Eagles": "These cretins disgust me."
Members of the council who voted to condemn the Marine Corps station were unbowed.
"I guess they've never heard of free speech," Councilwoman Dona Spring said. "I've had a lot of nasty phone messages today, threatening me with things like saying, 'I'll take you out.' But they can go ahead. I don't feel scared."
Code Pink said it has begun to circulate a petition calling for a Berkeley ballot measure that would make it more difficult to open and operate recruiting stations. The measure would be modeled after anti-pornography laws, organizers said, mandating that - like porn shops - new recruiting offices be subject to public hearings before they would be allowed to locate near homes or schools.
The Marines, meanwhile, were not ready to back down.
"It's just another protest," said Marine Corps Capt. Richard Lund, head of the recruiting office.
As he spoke in the early afternoon, with the protesters still chained to his door, a small band of demonstrators on the sidewalk shouted at passing cars and students at Shattuck Square: "Marines out of Berkeley! Marines out of Iraq!"
Heated words were exchanged whenever people tried to enter or leave the office, but the protest was peaceful.
"You guys are just cannon fodder!" the chained protesters shouted at three teenage boys who walked past the office and said they wanted to go inside. "They want to train you to kill babies!"
The teenagers turned around and left.
At one point, UC Berkeley student Kyrolos El Giheny walked up to the front door and tried to go inside to talk to Lund about a possible Marine career. He was unable to get past the chained protesters.
"They told me, 'No business as usual today,' " El Giheny said. "It's kind of nutty. It's really an infringement on my rights."
Make yourself heard
To contact members of the Berkeley City Council:
To contact Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who wants to pull federal funding from Berkeley:
To contact Code Pink:
To contact the Marine Corps headquarters in Virginia:
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.