The proposal of the Peace and Justice Commission to name Private Bradley Manning a hero for leaking sensitive U.S. government documents has provided much of the world an opportunity to bash Berkeley.
In the six days since word came out that the City Council would vote on the WikiLeaks matter, there have been hundreds of news articles, tweets, and television reports on the subject.
And the words aren’t pretty.
“I have had it with Berkeley, California, that anti-American bastion of disloyalty to the values and existence of the United States of America,” Dr. Laura, the syndicated pop psychologist wrote on her website. “I am calling for Berkeley to secede from California and the United States and go form their own pathetic country.”
Fox Nation was blunter: “Berkeley Gives America the Middle Finger,” read the headline of one article.
And David Gewirtz, the executive director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute who not only went to Cal, but who teaches at UC Berkeley Extension, wrote that “ The Berkeley City Council, as a body, is nuts. Always has been. Probably always will be. I can say this both because I used to go to grad school and work in Berkeley, and because their actions support the label.
“The City of Berkeley thinks it’s a sovereign nation.
“It’s not, of course, but that’s never stopped Berkeley.”
The vitriol poured out by those holding a more conservative point of view than most Berkeley residents – which would probably be 95% of the nation — is fairly common. Just flash back to the winter of 2008, when the city council passed a resolution urging Marine recruiters to leave their Shattuck Avenue offices. The council called the group “unwanted intruders,” and went on to offer Code Pink, the main group protesting the Marines, its own dedicated parking spot directly in front of the recruiting office. After state and federal lawmakers threatened to withdraw fiscal support for Berkeley, city council members toned down the language of the measure.
The action against the Marine recruiters – which also originated in the Peace and Justice Commission — also drew national attention to Berkeley and heaps of scorn from various pundits and commentators.
But many of Berkeley’s stances that seem ridiculous end up being adopted by the broader American population, according to Charles Wollenberg, a historian and the author of Berkeley: A City in History. The Free Speech Movement began in Berkeley in the early 1960s and spread throughout the nation, he pointed out. In 1964, Berkeley students held some of the first protests against the Vietnam War. Berkeley was one of the first cities to call for divestment from the apartheid regime in South Africa. It also was the first to ban the use of Styrofoam cups. Of course there are issues, like the Marine recruitment protests, that don’t gain broad national support, he said.
“There are things that begin in Berkeley that become national jokes but there are things that begin in Berkeley that become national trends,” said Wollenberg.
The City Council will consider tonight the Peace and Justice resolution urging for Manning’s release and the dropping of all charges against the 22-year old. The measure also says that if Manning leaked the 92,000 documents known as The Afghan Diary he should be declared a hero.
There has been so much media attention about the issue that the city spokeswoman, Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, sent out a communiqué Monday telling television reporters they could only count on being able to set up their cameras for 20 minutes at a time. The City Council chamber is just too small to accommodate all the media expected to attend, and can only hold three TV cameras at a time, she said.