Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Protest To Keep Recruiters Out Of Schools

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Under the watchful eyes of police in riot gear, hundreds of demonstrators representing a wide array of protest groups on both sides of the Iraq War debate Tuesday traded angry taunts and verbal threats, but their tense interactions fell short of physical violence in anticipation for controversial Berkeley City Council vote over Marine recruiting.

The Berkeley City Council drew a deluge of criticism after voting two weeks ago to send a letter to a downtown recruiting station advising the Marines they would be considered "uninvited and unwelcome intruders" if they did not move out.

On Tuesday night, the council was considering a second resolution put forward by two council members that would rescind the letter and differentiate between opposing the war in Iraq and "our respect and support for those serving in the armed forces." The meeting followed a daylong rally by both sides outside City Hall.

"This is very personal," said Lonnie Piet, of Sacramento, who joined the pro-troop organization Move America Forward outside City Hall hours before the scheduled vote. Piet, whose son is a Marine, said he wants a personal apology from council members and anti-war group Code Pink.

"The Marines have the right to recruit anyone, anywhere," Piet said.

The police emerged from a low-key presence early in the day and came out in force by the afternoon hours as groups as diverse as Code Pink, the Gold Star Moms and Move America Forward America escalated the rhetoric and shouts.

Move America Forward demonstrators waved flags and held signs including "Boycott Berkeley for Bashing Our Boys" and "Support our Troops."

On the other side, protesters with Code Pink held bouquets of flowers and waved signs saying "Peace Now" and "Bring Our Troops Home."

"We want to ask the Marines to not recruit in our community. The majority of citizens here are fervently against the war," said Code Pink protester Cynthia Papermaster, who has lived in Berkeley since 1965. "We're not against the Marines, but against what they're recruited to do."

Police made a handful of arrests for minor scuffles between the protesters, said Berkeley police spokesman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

The recruiting office opened in Berkeley in late 2006. It operated quietly until four months ago when Code Pink began holding regular protests.

The City Council's initial vote Jan. 29 outraged several lawmakers, who have threatened to withhold millions in state and federal money destined for Berkeley.

On Tuesday, more than 40 House Republican members asked President Bush to immediately rescind over $2 million in earmarks awarded to Berkeley.

The military does not "selectively defend our country, its people, or our freedom," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Bush. "Therefore, we should not reward jurisdictions that selectively support our troops."