What I saw at Berkeley


As I made my way to the end of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, I knew I had arrived when I saw the crowd, and heard the electrically amplified chants of “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” I was surprised to see this, since I thought the event was pretty much defeated, but no, the killjoys where out in numbers. They were no match for the police, though, who were everywhere.

Parking was easier than I expected, and I walked the 2 or 3 blocks back to Sproul Plaza. As I turned the corner to walk up the deceptively steep grade of Bancroft Way, my legs began to fill with lactic acid, which gives me the appearance of a swagger, and I prepared myself with the possibility of losing my SIOA cap today.

The place was a bit of a mob scene, and I walked around trying to find where I was supposed to go before finally catching sight of the metal detector threshold. So I joined the crush of people being funneled toward the door frame of the metal detector. As we shuffled along, I didn’t think I would stand out in this crowd, not with people wearing t-shirts saying “Muhammad is a homo.”

At one point, we were told to make a hole, as the police deposited two counter-protesters, a man and a woman, just at arm’s reach away from me. “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” he began chanting. His girlfriend announced that they had been ejected for nothing, that this wasn’t a free speech event, it was a fascist event, and as an afterthought – “Uh, oh, yeah, they brutalized us!” I am here to testify, as an eyewitness, that these people you have seen on TV really do exist.

Once past the metal detector, I began looking for the event. Where were the banners, the amplified voice? After a triple take, I studied the small crowd of maybe 30 people all facing the same direction, and spotted the 6’2” Milo.

Just like at rock concert, we pressed forward, chest to back trying to catch the eye of our favorite rock star activist. Pamela was there, her hair slightly frazzled in the 80 degree sunshine, wearing big TV screen type sunglasses, stabbing her finger in the air as she spoke, while a lone protester chanted incessantly, “no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”

Milo finally got him to stop when he invited the heckler to join them in dialogue. Mr. Heckler reacted to that the way Maynard G. Krebs reacted to the word “work.” “It should be easy” Milo said, leaning forward. “It should be easy,” he said, leaning into the person’s face with those strange sad eyes and worldly smile. “It should be easy, but it’s not.” That dried him up, and then Pamela took over. “That’s because our ideas are better. These are evil clowns, evil clowns,” she said. The crowd cheered, and passed their homemade signs for Milo to hold aloft. “Feminism is Cancer,” one proclaimed.

Pamela led us in a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. I thought, as I sang, about how I had learned this song in grade school, along with “America the Beautiful,” “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee,” and I never thought anything of it. I took it for granted that America would always be a good thing that hundreds of millions of Americans could take pride in and rally around. Today we seem to be throwing that all away with both hands.

The conclusion came when Milo clasped his hands in a gesture of sincerity and promised he would return next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, for however long it took. And, they left.

As I made my way back to the freeway, driving on the city streets of Berkeley, I took in the sights. There were lots of young women and lots of eating places. There was strange organic architecture with a 30-foot display screen on one side. Homes with “Black Lives Matter” signs in the window. It was a college town full of young people, full of activity, interest in things, passion, the burgeoning of youth.

I thought about how much universities depend on reputation. They are the “best,” or in the “top ten,” or “Ivy League.” Some of this image is manufactured, but Berkeley has always been known for its wild undergraduate on-campus activity. People caroming off of different lives, and ideas, experimentation, exploration, virtuosity. All these things will bring people to a university like Berkeley. But lately, Berkeley has added some new aspects to their public persona: pettiness, meanness, even cowardice.

For Berkeley to sabotage Free Speech Week is not that surprising. This is how universities fight. It is how they look smart and in charge. But it was the getting the press to lie for them, the threatening the Berkeley Patriot students with legal action, and threats of expulsion that took it to another dimension entirely. This is so bad, it leads one to think Berkeley is culpable for the Antifa riot earlier this year.

Good reputation will insulate them from harsh criticism, and they are sure going to need it, because they are about to be excoriated on the Internet.

Maybe they will lead the charge on shutting that down, also.

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