Opinion: Supply and demand at a UC Berkeley protest

Outraged that UC allows the far-right to harass their student populations under the childish ruse of “free speech,” the author and his friend go to a rally to protest. Sort of.

My old punk rock professor Linus Owens and I attempted to play the role of Press at the Sept. 28 protest. We were both frauds, of course. Linus is a sociologist (and more of an archive rat than a people’s person at that), and I… well, I’m doing an MFA in fiction writing. However, with both of us outraged that university administrations keep on allowing racist misogynist trolls to harass their student populations under the childish ruse of “free speech,” we were determined to bear witness and amplify the voice of marginalized students. The god of irony had other plans.

The rally was charged and volatile. A blond right-wing media troll from Infowars tried to harass speakers and was blocked by a human chain of people wearing purple, “Cal Antifascist” shirts. She made the best out of the scene, calling, “Aren’t you against walls? You’re building a wall!” Little did she know she was being shielded from her own provocation. When we started marching, she tried to charge at us from the side, leaping from behind the bushes, accompanied by a cameraman and burly bodyguard. The crowd responded by shouting into her microphone, “Fascist go home!” and a boy poured a bottle of water down her neck. Distraught, she ran away and never came back, but her burly bodyguard, sporting a bandaged nose, snatched the boy. The crowd intervened to pull the boy from his grip, and Cal Antifascists shielded the march from the man, as he held his hand in a White Power gesture.

The march continued into UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall, and occupied it for fifteen minutes, until riot police marched in enforce, turned on the fire alarm and pushed everyone out. As speeches were held on the stairway, some college jocks amassed. There were already five or six of them, snickering with expensive dentistry at the impassioned speakers, their pastel-colored shirts hanging tightly onto their gym-sculpted torsos.

“God, I just wanna go to class, learn some SUPPLY AND DEMAND!” a tall blond boy called.

“Are they the Campus White Supremacists?” I asked Linus.

“More like the Campus Econ Majors,” he said.

As the jocks considered disrupting the rally, I decided to intervene. “Actually,” I told them, “you might want to voice your concerns to the police. They were the ones to shut down classes.”

“What are you talking about, they’re here to protect us from these…” He wouldn’t finish the sentence. “Why are you even talking to me, go away!”

The rally soon disbanded and it appeared Wheeler Hall would reopen.

“Oh man, now we’ll have to go back to class?” one of the jocks said.

Linus sighed. “You just can’t win with these guys.”

The cops led a white-haired legal observer in handcuffs. The police spokesperson later said that he was arrested for wearing a mask to conceal his identity, which is weird, because he wasn’t wearing one, and those who were wearing masks were not detained. As Cal Antifascists hauled the sound equipment away, I suggested to Linus that we try to interview some of the Student Activists. What would they like to tell the world? Etc.

“Sure.” Linus pulled out a notebook. I was very impressed. His usual all-black punk rock style was jammed with a new brightly colored pink tuft of hair at the tip of his skull. He looked like someone your local antifa might be happy to talk to.

I approached the group of Students, meaning peace. “Do y’all have a spokesperson?” I asked. “We’re writers”—I signaled at Linus, whose white notebook glistened between his black nail polish and tattooed knuckles—“and we thought of getting the students’ side of the story.”

I was answered with murmurs of I don’t know and Not really. I approached a lanky guy who was one of the speakers beforehand. “Do you talk to Press?”

“I guess so,” he said, “but only if you have business cards.”

“Great!” Linus was sure to have some kind of business card.

A search in his wallet revealed only a business card of an Australian researcher of urban squats, none of his own. Our cover was blown. We were clearly not Press. “We’re writers,” I begged, “you can Google us…!” but the lanky antifascist had already lost interest and the group was heading away.

I tried reasoning with another Student Activist. I pulled out my phone in a final, desperate attempt to prove my shady writing credentials, but he eyed it suspiciously. “Sorry, can’t help you.” No one would talk to us.

We went home. I had promised my old sociology professor an old-strawberry smoothie. Once in my life, I’m accompanied by a friend with a claim for institutional authority and he doesn’t even have a business card. Then again, I didn’t even have a notebook.

Amitai Ben-Abba is a Bay Area-based writer and activist.