What do people in Berkeley think about the upcoming rallies in their city?

This woman decided to act against the white nationalist rally planned for Aug. 27 by helping members of the San Francisco Poster Syndicate pass out handmade political posters on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley on Thursday, Aug. 24. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

By Daphne White and Frances Dinkelspiel

To get a sense of what Berkeley residents think about the upcoming “anti-Marxist” rally slated for Civic Center Park on Sunday, as well as a number of planned counter protests, Berkeleyside asked some people on the street and via Facebook about their views.

Dennis Baker: “Berkeley has become a caricature”

Dennis Baker. Photo: Daphne White

Dennis Baker is retired from Berkeley Lab where he was an electronics technician. He has lived in Berkeley since 1977.

 Are you planning to go to the Aug. 27 demonstration or counter-demonstration?


No.

Why not?

As a Vietnam vet with PTSD, I avoid crowds in general. I don’t move that well, and being hit with a two-by-four could put me in bed for the rest of my life. Also, the fact that they are using Berkeley for theater, for a stage, is kind of annoying. The perception of Berkeley has become a caricature ever since Ronald Reagan went after those students in People’s Park in 1969.

This is being billed as an anti-Marxist event. Do you think there are Marxists in Berkeley?

Certainly! I just passed by a trio of them at Sather Gate, and they were being roundly ignored. I talked with them and found they are stuck in 1917. Berkeley is certainly not a Marxist town, no way! I can’t remember who once said, “it’s amazing how conservative revolutionaries are,” but that sure applies here.


Do you think these Berkeley rallies will stop anytime soon?

I think boredom will set in. We have people willing to do bizarre things — like putting swastikas on their foreheads — because they get such an intense response out of it. If that didn’t get a rise out of people, they would do something else, like kill puppies. They just want to do something that matches their level of alienation. These people are not hooked into humanity, and they are looking for clubs they can belong to.

Karim Kone: “White nationalists are an aberration”

Karim Kone. Photo: Daphne White

Karim Kone has lived in Berkeley for 15 years. He is a vice-president for information technology for a San Francisco company.

Are you planning to go to the Aug. 27 demonstration or counter-demonstration?

No.


What is your reaction to the upcoming rally and the current political situation?

I have lived in the U.S. for 20 years — 15 years in Berkeley — but because of the Trump election, I am in the process of getting my citizenship. I am a Muslim, actually. I didn’t see the need to become a citizen before — the main thing was to be able to work. Now, I want to be able to vote. My vote is just one vote, but it’s important.

What do you think about white nationalists?

I think they are an aberration. They should go back in the closet. They came out because they were empowered by Trump’s speech and behavior.

As a black man from France, what are your thoughts about racism in America?

I think there are internal demons here: people haven’t dealt with the race issue. On the other hand, being black in America is actually better than being black in Europe. I can go higher up here than in France. There is a ceiling here also, but it’s higher than in Europe.

What do you want to teach your children in these polarized times?

My children are quite young, but I want them to learn that one culture is not better than another. My wife and children are Jewish, by the way. They went to a Jewish camp this summer and my son had a what-do-you-call it when he was a baby — a bris. We have Shabbos dinner with my in-laws on Friday nights.

Paul Kealoha Blake: “I will serve as a witness”

Paul Kealoha Blake. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Paul Kealoha Blake is a concerned Berkeley resident.

Are you planning to go to the Aug 27 demonstration or counter demonstration? Yes. I will participate because I believe that hate and bigotry is a very serious issue that has appeared before in our world history. Most notable has been the rise of fascism and the Nazi movement in WWII. From 1939 – 1945 that conflict resulted in the most deadly conflict in human history. I want to avoid a repeat of that experience.  I am a staunch proponent of nonviolent action… I am an activist… not an in-activist.. I believe that being a model of nonviolent presence is appropriate and required by me… of myself. I will serve as a witness to this demonstration… not a confronter… a witness. This will mean NO conversation, NO signs.. NO non compliance… just witnessing.

I believe that Boston set the mark for demonstration support. It is my hope that Berkeley can rise to that high water mark.

Will you join a counter-rally? If so, which one?

I may attend the Oxford/Addison demonstration, but I am wary of being locked out of Civic Center if I do not remain at Civic Center.

 What do you think about white nationalists?

My reaction to white nationalists is as complex as their movement is. In a political and social system that is built on institutional and societal racist practices, those systems are only able to survive through fear and loathing. My experience at past rallies has been one of witnessing violence and fear based interaction. My witnessing of those rallies provided me with eyewitness accounts of very little political content and far more physical contact.

What do you think about the way the city of Berkeley is responding to the rally?

I believe that our city leadership has struggled to find political ground that expresses the great diversity of Berkeley citizens. As I have stated before, I fully support their efforts however I must follow my own intuitions and actions. If signs are able to move Nazi’s and fascists, it is my hope that the sign presses will run 24/7.

As with other municipalities, I am in disagreement with the stay-away order directed by the city manager and carried forward by our mayor and council. The least our city leaders might have done was to urge our citizens to search their own motivations and allow them to make these important and personal decisions… in addition to posting signs. They have in effect stifled the community… rather than the groups seeking to use our resources, un-permitted and with a history of being very violent and disruptive.

Amanda Prasuhn: “There is power in numbers”

Amanda Prasuhn. Photo: Courtesy of Amanda Prasuhn

Amanda Prasuhn is a 27-year-old environmental attorney who has lived in  Berkeley for the past four years.

 Are you planning to go to the Aug. 27 demonstration or counter-demonstration?

 I am planning on attending the counter-demonstration.

 Why?

There is power in numbers. If a large group of counter-protesters show up, we present a large and united front against hate and white supremacy. I don’t want white supremacists to feel welcome in Berkeley or like their ideas are acceptable. I also don’t want people of color and other groups targeted by white supremacists to feel like Berkeley residents aren’t standing up for them.

 Will you join a counter-rally? If so, which one?

I am joining the Bay Area Rally Against Hate hosted by Unite for Freedom from Right Wing Violence in the Bay Area and endorsed by over seventy organizations. It begins at 10:30 am at Addison and Oxford.

 What is your reaction to the upcoming rally and the current political situation?

I believe that white nationalists and other right-wing hate groups have always existed, but feel empowered since Trump’s election to rally. Trump and his administration have made these groups feel welcome. I despise what they stand for and want to counter racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, and hate any way that I can. I feel on edge that these groups keep coming to Berkeley for their rallies and hope that with enough opposition, they will stop rallying here (or anywhere else).

 What do you think about white nationalists?

They are racist — point blank. Their opinions are hateful and ill-informed. Their rallies make me sick and afraid, but we must stand up against them.

 What would you like to say to the white nationalists?

Your ideas are not welcome in Berkeley or this country. The vast majority of people do not agree with you.

 What would you like to say to antifa?

Thank you for standing against racism and oppression and being willing to step in to protect protesters, like you did in Charlottesville to protect protesting clergy members. I do not believe all antifa members are violent and think that is a false narrative being spread by right-wing groups and media outlets. However, although I do not personally advocate for violence, I understand it is a tactic that is sometimes necessary in the face of oppression and violence from the other side.

 What do you think about the way the city of Berkeley is responding to the rally?

I appreciate that the city and Mayor Arreguín oppose the rally and white supremacy. I wish the City would go a step further in stopping hate and violent speech and encouraging counter-protests. I also hope the city treats the white supremacists groups differently from the counter-protesters. I’m concerned that the police will act forcefully against the counter-protesters when they should be focused on the white nationalists who are coming from out of town to intimidate Berkeley residents. I hope the police work to stop violent fights or attacks and ban those with weapons. Finally, I hope that the city will not interfere with counter-protesters’ right to assemble, protest, and speak out against hate.

Sasha Wertheim: Why not walk by and ignore them?

Sasha Wertheim. Photo: Daphne White

Sasha Wertheim is a speech-language pathologist currently working in Oakland. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and stepson.

Are you planning to go to the Aug. 27 demonstration or counter-demonstration?

No.

Why not?

The people who are leading and attending these demonstrations are pretty terrifying, and I am planning to stay as far from them as possible. Most of the local response to them that I’ve heard is suggesting that we all stay away, and that sounds perfect to me. They want us to engage with them, but I feel that that would only make the situation worse. I am comforted that when the same demonstrators came to Berkeley a few months ago, there appeared to be few problems. This time, wouldn’t it be so satisfying and kind of hilarious for them to have their little demonstration, and for the locals to be walking by completely ignoring them?

What would you like to be able to tell the white nationalist demonstrators?

I wish there were a way to show them that their fears of immigrants and people of color are unfounded.

Erica Etelson: Rallies don’t tackle underlying problems

Erica Etelson. Photo: Courtesy Erica Etelson

Erica Etelson is a Berkeley writer and community activist.

Are you planning to go to the Aug. 27 demonstration or counter-demonstration?

No, I’ll be out of town.

Will you join a counter-rally? If so, which one?

I’ve taken the #PledgeAgainstH8 to help deter hate group members from attending.

What is your reaction to the upcoming rally and the current political situation?

I applaud the Berkeley community for standing together against hate this weekend. At the same time, I hope people recognize that turning out to the occasional rally against racist extremists does nothing to tackle the underlying problems that have brought us to the boiling point — bi-partisan neo-liberal capitalist devastation, war profiteering and a corporate-controlled duopoly on a fast track to plutocracy. Until we build a grassroots people’s movement for peace and social, racial, political, economic and environmental justice, we’ll remain vulnerable to fascist forces that will scapegoat their way into power.

What do you think about white nationalists?

Being Jewish, it’s hard not to get reactive and go on the offensive. I’m trying to understand where they’re coming from instead of simply attacking them, because attacking inevitably backfires. I’m trying to read and learn all I can but I don’t know any personally so it’s hard. I do know people of color and immigrants and they’re scared and upset by white nationalist activities, and I do think white nationalists and anyone who allies themselves with them should be held accountable for the pain they’re causing.

What would you like to say to the white nationalists?

If you’re upset about the direction this country is going and feel that you haven’t gotten a fair shake, take a closer look at who’s responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. Donald Trump and the powers that be want nothing more than to divide white working-class people from immigrants, people of color, labor unions and so-called “liberal elites” — it’s the oldest trick in the book and, sadly, works like a charm.

Ask yourself what Trump or Bush or Reagan ever did that tangibly made your life better? Also, I do believe that white liberals often act condescending and righteous and that Democrats in recent years have largely abandoned the working class. Are you willing to look past these failings and think about who your true political opponents are?

What would you like to say to antifa?

Don’t take the bait. White nationalists are cruising for a bruising — don’t give them what they want. If you see a Berkeley resident being attacked and the police aren’t dealing, then I believe you’re justified in stepping in but, otherwise, please keep a low profile. Otherwise, I think the hate groups will be encouraged to keep coming back.

What do you think about the way the city of Berkeley is responding to the rally?

I think the city is doing a good job balancing public safety against the need to take a stand against hate. However, I’m dismayed by the police chief’s insistence that the police will try to stay on the sidelines — this is what happened last time and why fights broke out between hate groups and antifa. It’s what happened in Charlottesville and why antifa were compelled to step in and protect protesters. If the police don’t do their job of protecting people from hate group violence, antifa will.

Jessica Stiles: “I’m feeling conflicted”

Jessica Stiles. Photo: Courtesy Jessica Stiles

Jessica Stiles writes and tweets about social justice and climate change; you’re likely to run into her and her kids at Chloe’s Closet on Solano, at the North Berkeley branch library, and on occasion, at a City Council meeting.

Are you planning to go to the Aug. 27 demonstration or counter-demonstration?

Like many Berkeleyites, I’m feeling conflicted. There are lots of different counter-demonstrations in SF and Berkeley and compelling — as well as competing — reasons to attend many of them.

On Saturday morning, I’ll likely take my 5- and 9-year-olds to a family-friendly event in Walnut Creek in which participants will spell out with our assembled bodies the words “END HATE!” A photographer will capture an aerial view of the message by helicopter. Later that afternoon I plan to go to an interfaith/secular humanist gathering at MLK Civic Center Park sponsored by Beyt Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, described as an afternoon “to affirm our solidarity with those who will be nonviolently protesting the Nazis (and other variants of fascism) the next day and to sanctify the location.”

 I’ll join in on some of the alternative ways of countering the hate–it was heartening to see so many others picking up the “Berkeley Stands United Against Hate” signs at my branch library this morning. I’m going to try to tape mine to the inside of my car window.

tweeted some other #BerkeleyUnited ideas for citywide, decentralized actions: It would be great if local businesses donated a percentage of their earnings on Sunday to East Bay organizations that serve the black, Latino, Muslim, Asian, Native American, LGBTQ, Jewish and other communities targeted by white supremacists. And perhaps we could all wear some visible marker of solidarity with one another in opposition to white supremacy, the way we wore pink hats for the Women’s March. How about we make a concerted effort to patronize black-owned-businesses this Sunday, and thereafter? Let’s festoon MLK Civic Center Park with so much political art and creative signage ahead of the rally that there’s hardly anywhere for the haters to stand once they get there.

Why take counter action? 

While I resent the amount of mental, psychological and physical energy the white nationalists are draining from so many of us right now, I find it both impossible and immoral to wholly ignore them. I’m inclined to trust the advice of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Life After Hate, an organization of former white supremacists whose mission it is to draw current white supremacists out of the movement’s clutches. Both organizations advise not engaging with the rally-goers directly, both to deny them the attention they seek and to remain safe. Instead, they recommend holding counter-rallies at an alternative location.

This seems like wise advice; however, I also sympathize with those who feel that it is imperative to confront the hatred face-to-face and to do so non-violently unless it becomes necessary, as a last resort, to physically defend oneself or others. The tens of thousands of counter-protesters who showed up in Boston made very visible the case that those who espouse hatred are vastly outnumbered and should be shunted back to what we like to tell ourselves were the pre-Trump-era margins of society. Indeed, in response to being humiliated in Boston, white supremacist organizers canceled over sixty planned rallies nationwide. Would the Boston counter-protests have been as successful had they been held at an appreciable distance from the white supremacists? Maybe, maybe not.

While trying to decide which counter-rallies I’ll go to, I’m asking myself a lot of questions. Questions like: As a parent of two school-aged kids, don’t I have a duty to not get myself into a situation where I could become a casualty? Of course, I wouldn’t take my children to a potentially violent rally, but even if it’s just me, don’t I need to stay safe for their sakes? But what if I didn’t have children? Then would I go? And if I don’t put my body on the line, does that mean I’m not as committed to racial justice and religious plurality as I thought I was? If instead, I go to an event that does not involve much risk, am I doing it just to make myself feel like I’m doing something or is it still a meaningful act, one that has an impact? Are there acts of resistance that are just as important as, and possibly even less detrimental to my community, than confronting the white supremacists in person?

What do you think about white nationalists? What would you like to say to them?

Of course, my gut reaction to them is abhorrence. I’ve read more about white nationalists in the last week than I have in my lifetime, which is still not saying much. One thing that keeps coming up again and again in the testimonies of former white nationalists who have abandoned the ideology and way of life, is that what turned them around were 1-on-1 conversations–rather than heated screaming matches–with people who belonged to the group that they deemed inferior. The more meaningful interactions they had with individuals, the less capable they were of continuing to dehumanize the group to which these individuals belonged.

It’s a very tall order to ask someone who is a target of white supremacy to enter into dialogue with a white supremacist and to adopt the open tone that is most likely to lead to a change of heart. Why would anyone want to waste energy on such a painful, seemingly futile, and quite possibly dangerous interaction?

And don’t we white people recoil from the prospect of real dialogue with a white supremacist for another reason: to distance ourselves from white racism? Don’t we, at least on some level, tell ourselves that we can’t possibly be racist if we denounce loudly enough those who practice it so blatantly?

Is it worthwhile to try to bring around individual white supremacists? It’s probably not something many of us are going to take on; our energy is better spent elsewhere, no doubt. But I am going to take a cue from one video I watched by former white supremacists who advised that while it’s imperative that we unequivocally denounce white supremacy, we can’t lose sight of the fact that these guys are actually human beings. With that in mind, the sign I leave in MLK Civic Center Park on Saturday is going to say, “Yes, you infuriate us. But we haven’t given up on you. There’s Life After Hate.”

Note that Life After Hate founder Christian Picciolini will be at Berkeleyside’s Uncharted Festival of Ideas this October.