Members and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party joined in both actions, asking workers to join with them in speaking out against racist attacks and discussing and debating how to build this fight among working people.
A small portion of those who assembled in Berkeley, some 200 self-proclaimed “antifa,” short for anti-fascist, thugs dressed in black and wearing bandanas over their faces broke out of the crowd and carried out assaults on several of three dozen supporters of President Trump and others who had come to the park to debate with the protesters.
Cops mobilized in the hundreds by “progressive” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín retreated and did nothing to stop the attacks, only intervening after some individuals had been beaten.
It was clear this was the plan of the liberal government in Berkeley all along. “We made a strategic decision to move officers,” police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Bay Area demonstrations came on the heels of the mobilizations against racism in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a big action of 40,000 in Boston Aug. 19 to speak out against racism. The Bay Area actions were called to counter two other rallies called for the weekend. In San Francisco a conservative group called Patriot Prayer organized by Joey Gibson from Portland, Oregon, announced they were going to hold a rally in Crissy Field Park.
In Berkeley, Amber Cummings, a transgender supporter of President Trump, called a “No to Marxism in America” rally, targeting the anti-free speech actions of antifa forces. Both organizers stated that they are not racists and did not want support for their actions from neo-Nazi’s or other white supremacists.
Liberal Democratic Party politicians on both sides of the Bay and several members of Congress, including Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, mounted a campaign calling for the conservative actions to be shut down. The Chronicle and other media outlets in the Bay Area joined in, playing up the threat of violence. Berkeley officials denied Cummings a rally permit.
In the midst of the violence-baiting attacks on them, and antifa threats of physical attacks, both Gibson and Cummings called off their events. Gibson then announced a press conference for Alamo Square Park.
Early on Saturday he canceled his press conference. In spite of this, 3,000 people came to the park. But overnight the cops had fenced it in and a cordon of hundreds of them stood inside the fence. Initially the cops prevented many who wanted to protest from being able to enter from adjacent streets. As the crowd grew at several intersections, the cops opened the streets and the anti-racist protesters gathered and listened to speakers.
Many in the crowd on both days carried homemade signs denouncing racism, “hate,” and white supremacy. Impacted by extensive media coverage of racists demonstrating in Charlottesville, some argued that fascist threats are growing in the United States.
Cecele Carter, a history teacher from San Jose, carried a sign at the San Francisco Civic Center with pictures from Nazi Germany and a decades-old Ku Klux Klan rally. “I tell my students if they aren’t interested in history and learn its lessons, they are doomed to repeat it,” she told the Militant.
The antifa thugs didn’t try to differentiate between Trump supporters, supposed white supremacists looking to debate politics, journalists, or any others they chose to target — like one person wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Greek philosopher Socrates. Their goal was to limit and overshadow the outpouring against racism that motivated most in the weekend crowds. A majority of those this reporter spoke to opposed the antifa attacks, and many said they resented how these physical threats and attacks led to many leaving the park. “They are a distraction from the message today of protesting racism,” said Bill Gregory, a veteran of social protests in the area.
“Obviously I am not a Klansman,” Jordan Davis, 25, who carried a pro-Donald Trump banner in Berkeley, told the Chronicle. “They are trying to lump Trump supporters in with a group that is pretty much nonexistent.”
Dennis Richter, organizer of the Los Angeles Socialist Workers Party, joined the actions on both days. He intervened in Berkeley with a few other protesters to halt an antifa attack on a man not far from a Socialist Workers literature table.
“They claim to be against fascism, but these attacks on individuals who you don’t agree with are in fact stock and trade of fascists. These methods of attempting to shut down civil discourse are alien to the working class,” Richter said. “They echo the liberal Democrats and media who blame workers for the election of Donald Trump, saying it reflects a rise in racism among Caucasian workers.
“This is false,” Richter said. “Our party discusses politics with workers at their homes all over this country. There is less racism now than anytime in U.S. history.”
Immediately following the actions, Berkeley Mayor Arreguín urged the University of California there to cancel a conservative campus group’s plans for a “Free Speech Week” in September.
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