City Council says recruiting station not welcome; military mum for now
By Doug Oakley
Hey-hey, ho-ho, the Marines in Berkeley have got to go.
That's the message from the Berkeley City Council, which voted 6-3, with Gordon Wozniak, Betty Olds and Kriss Worthington dissenting, to tell the Marines that its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station "is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders."
It also voted 7-2, with Wozniak and Olds dissenting, to explore enforcing its law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against the Marines and to encourage the women's peace group Code Pink to protest in front of the station.
In a separate item, the council voted 8-1 to give Code Pink a designated parking space in front of the recruiting station once a week for six months and a free sound permit for protesting once a week from noon to 4 p.m.
Councilman Gordon Wozniak opposed both items.
The Marines have been in Berkeley for a little more than a year, having moved from Alameda in December 2006. For about the past four months, Code Pink has been protesting in front of the station.
"I believe in the Code Pink cause. The Marines don't belong here, they shouldn't have come here, and they should leave," Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said after votes were cast.
A Marines representative did not respond to requests for comment.The resolution telling the Marines they are unwelcome and directing the city attorney to explore issues of sexual orientation discrimination was brought to the council by the city's Peace and Justice commission.
The recommendation to give Code Pink a parking space for protesting and a free sound permit was brought by council members Linda Maio and Max Anderson.
Code Pink on Wednesday started circulating petitions to put a measure on the November ballot in Berkeley that would make it more difficult to open military recruiting offices near homes, parks, schools, churches libraries or health clinics. The group needs 5,000 signatures to make the ballot.
Even though the council items passed, not everyone is happy with the work of Code Pink. Some employees and owners of businesses near the Marines office have had enough of the group and its protests.
"My husband's business is right upstairs, and this (protesting) is bordering on harassment," Dori Schmidt told the council. "I hope this stops."
An employee of a nearby business who asked not to be identified said Wednesday the elderly Code Pink protesters are aggressive, take up parking spaces, block the sidewalk with their yoga moves, smoke in the doorways, and are noisy.
"Most of the people around here think they're a joke," the woman said.
Wozniak said he was opposed to giving Code Pink a parking space because it favors free speech rights of one group over another.
"There's a line between protesting and harassing, and that concerns me," Wozniak said. "It looks like we are showing favoritism. We have to respect the other side, and not abuse their rights. This is not good policy."
Fran Rachel, 90, a Code Pink protester who spoke at the council meeting, said the group's request for a parking space and noise permit was especially important because the Marines are recruiting soldiers who may die in an unjust war.
"This is very serious," Rachel said. "This isn't a game; it's mass murder. There's a sickness of silence of people not speaking out against the war. We have to do this."
Anderson, a former Marine who said he was "drummed out" of the corps when he took a stand against the Vietnam War, said he'd love to see the Marines high-tail it out of town.
"We are confronted with an organization that can spend billions of dollars on propaganda," Anderson said. "This is not Okinawa here; we're involved in a naked act of aggression. If we can provide a space for ordinary people to express themselves against this kind of barbarity, then we should be doing it."