Bay Area mass mobilizations counter neo-fascist events

Sept. 2015 BerkeleyBy JEFF MACKLER

 The organization of massive united-front-type counter-mobilizations to challenge the planned Aug. 26-27 far-right demonstrations in the San Francisco/Berkeley Bay Area proved to be key to exposing these currents for the tiny groups of isolated and pathetic reactionaries that they are.

In Berkeley, on Sunday, Aug. 27, the newly formed Bay Area Against Hate coalition of more than 70 organizations drew 5000 to 7000 protesters for a rally at the University of California Berkeley, followed by a march to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. These actions aimed at countering a scheduled, but then cancelled, neo-fascist “No to Marxism in America” event.

Endorsers of this disciplined, well-monitored and carefully planned counter-protest included the Alameda County Central Labor Council; the Berkeley and Peralta Federation of Teachers; several SEIU and AFSCME locals; the UAW/Graduate Student Union; several faith-based groups; socialist organizations including Democratic Socialists of America, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Action, Socialist Alternative, Speak Out Now/Revolutionary Workers Organization, and La Voz/Workers Voice; and a host of community organizations.

Pre-rally monitor training and security sessions, with some 200 activists participating, were organized to ensure a disciplined, peaceful, and secure event that would maximize participation while minimizing possible disruption from both police and potential right-wing attacks.

Berkeley’s announced reactionary speakers and organizers had long been partisans of far-right mobilizations, including the neo-Nazi and KKK-orchestrated violent events in Charlottesville. But like the reactionary organizers of the scheduled and then cancelled Aug. 26 San Francisco “Patriot Prayer” rally, they vehemently insisted that their intentions were entirely anti-racist and anti-fascist.

The cancelled neo-fascist Crissy Field rally near San Francisco’s Marina District had been granted a permit by the National Park Service, but its organizers thought better of using it in face of an impending labor-community counter-mobilization that promised to expose the handful of ultra-rightists as virtually irrelevant. In announcing their cancellation, the demoralized and demobilized ultra-reactionaries informed the media that they would hold a press conference instead at Alamo Square.

The following day, they said, they would join their co-thinkers in Berkeley for a rally from which “both fascists and Marxists” would be banned—a hyperbolic statement typical of these self-proclaimed “god-fearing Christian ‘free speech’ advocates.” On less than a day’s notice, 1000 counter-protesters, led by a contingent of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose Local 10 voted to close down the Oakland Port to organize ILWU members to challenge the threatened fascist rally, arrived at Alamo Square. Again, few, if any, ultra-rightists appeared, at least not while the counter-protesters were there.

In Berkeley the police, mayor, and campus administrators mobilized heavily armed police contingents from virtually all the state university campuses to surround MLK Civic Center Park to protect the would-be neo-Nazi rally. At the same time, they denied permits for the counter-protesters to rally and march, and barricaded the West Campus Lawn assembly site to try to minimize participation and egress. As city officials warned the public to steer clear of the area, Berkeley police blocked off march routes and cordoned off MLK Park itself.

But the sheer size and discipline of the anti-fascist mobilization dwarfed the police presence and forced city and police officials to open up previously closed streets.

The Berkeley marchers, an overwhelmingly portion of whom were young people, carried banners and placards representing a broad spectrum of anti-white supremacist and anti-fascist viewpoints. The participants were high-spirited; their chants demonstrated pride in their solidarity with all those that fascist thugs would harm.

Rally speakers repeatedly stressed the need for united and disciplined mass counter-mobilizations of working people and their allies, as opposed to small-scale confrontations, as the key to challenging what most agreed are today still extremely limited fascist and alt-right gatherings.

Several socialist speakers took the occasion of the fascists’ proclaimed “Anti-Marxism” rally to present their own views of Marxism and of socialism as a humane and future society that would strive to guarantee full democratic rights for all—free from capitalist wars, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant prejudice, and the degradation of the human spirit. The ever-growing rally audience during the two-hour morning event responded enthusiastically, with each new speaker re-enforced by the shouts of unity and solidarity that their speeches evinced from the crowd.

A separate anti-fascist march of 1000 to 2000 people also proceeded to MLK Civic Center Park. It was organized by several Bay Area organizations including SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), Arab Resource Organizing Committee, Community Ready Corps, and activists from the Anti Police Terrorism Project (APTP). A black attired and masked antifa group joined in.

While police initially prevented both marches from entering the MLK Civic Center Park, the absence of fascists inside and the huge presence of the counter-mobilizations outside led city officials to order the police to abandon their barricades.

A handful of almost unnoticed neo-fascists who remained pepper-sprayed the approaching counter-protesters, but were quickly dispersed by march security teams. A couple of harmless smoke bombs set off in the course of this brief scattering of the fascist thugs provided the unfortunate visual effect that was inevitably employed by the corporate media to slander the mass counter-mobilization as the product of violent extremists of the left.

The Washington Post, whose reporters were absent from the scene, blared, “Black Clad Antifa Members Attack Peaceful Right Wing Demonstrators in Berkeley.” The San Francisco Chronicle similarly headlined, “Masked Anarchists Violently Rout Right Wing Demonstrators.” Mention of the 7000 peaceful Berkeley protesters, who accounted for the nation’s second largest united anti-fascist mobilization after Boston’s 40,000 a week earlier, was strikingly absent.

Rally Against Hate organizers met a few days later to evaluate the Sunday events and to discuss possible future mobilizations, perhaps against the UC Berkeley administration’s late September so-called Free Speech Week, where contemplated invitees are the Breitbart News former senior editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, and perhaps other far-right figures like Ann Coulter and former Trump senior political adviser Stephen Bannon.

The unanimous assessment of the Aug. 27 march and rally organizers was that their efforts represented an important victory for the rising movement against fascism and white supremacy. This victory rested in the broad united-front effort that democratically engaged labor, student, community, faith-based groups, and overall anti-racist organizations. It also reflected the resulting increase in confidence of the participants that they, not the tiny assemblage of fascist thugs, represented the vast majority and the best aspirations for humanity’s future.

The mass counter-protests also had the undeniable effect of demoralizing and demobilizing the fascist forces as well as exposing those public officials who sought to place an equal sign between the violent and reactionary intentions of the fascists and those who mobilized to oppose them.

The fact that the corporate media slandered and violence-baited their efforts was noted with regret but was more than mitigated by the fact that participants grew in understanding that neither the corporate media nor the police, city and state officials are to be trusted. Indeed, the march organizers rejected with a smile the request by the violence-baiting, street-banning mayor of Berkeley to be a speaker at the rally.

On the same weekend, 2000 mobilized in anti-fascist actions in Chicago, 1500 in Seattle, and 600 in San Diego.

Photo: David Bacon /  



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