A Celebratory Note on Sunday’s People in Berkeley

With the thousands who turned out last Sunday (Aug. 27), I celebrate. But first, I want to thank the fascists for giving us all an opportunity to party in the city as we haven’t partied in a long time. I want to thank the fascists for bringing us to a new point of imagining how strong our arms become when we throw them around each other, and realize a new togetherness, and smile in our fearlessness.

And just to be clear, “fascism” is a technical term that refers to people and systems based on the use of militarism, the repression of movements for democracy, justice, and local autonomy, and a belief in a master race (aka white supremacy).

In the thousands, we partied. We took over the streets of downtown Berkeley. There was a band playing jazz and movement songs. There was a drumming group. There was a truck from which speeches emerged, and singing, as it led our people around the town.

In the thousands, people dressed as they liked, and wore the signs that they liked, and chanted the chants that they liked – with dozens to choose from. The signs people wore came in all kinds of styles, T-shirts and hats and placards, statements and protests and jokes poking fun at the hideous ideologues now calling themselves the administration.

The sign that caused the most commentary, of course, and thus the most thought, was the sign of the black mask covering the face of a member of the group in black. That mask is only another sign. It is a sign that says, “this is a highly repressive society, and our faces and our identities are used against us at every turn.” It is important that a lot of people are saying that. We lose sight of how repressive this society is.

Even to demonstrate, to bring our thousands out into the streets to demand the preservation of the few rights that we have won through 60 years of civil rights struggle, voting rights struggle, labor rights struggle, our environmental struggles to save the planet in its beauty, our cultural struggles to save our many languages from the lobotomy of media-speak – even just to demonstrate, to bring our thousands out into the streets to do all this is a clear sign that this is a repressive society. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have to do that.

The next time you see a bunch of people together in black with masks on their faces, thank them for reminding us of what we face. They’re hiding their faces is a statement about what is in our faces, and of how our faces are used against us (think about what is used to racialize us).

I want to thank the fascists for causing the City Council to pass a special ordinance giving the city manager special powers to curb demonstrators. It was an important sign of solidarity with us who had no choice but to be there in opposition to fascist militarism and their “master race” ideologies. Of course, it was militarist in its own way. When a political or social problem arises, our government can only think in terms of policing, increasing power, making rules that can be policed. But Council at least had the wisdom to make the lifespan of its edict short (it expires on Dec. 31, 2017).

There were those who bemoaned that extraordinary powers proclamation. They said it will just be used against us. But the government and the police have never needed that. At 5:30 in the morning, they will come for the homeless on whatever day they like. We deal with this all the time. For us, they don’t need a special proclamation. The first person arrested on Sunday was a diminuitive woman, one of us, who laid her hands on a reporter standing still as the crowd flowed by. When the reporter retaliated by pushing her back (evidently because she didn’t say “excuse me” loud enough), the cops arrested her – the one who was with us. It took them 25 officers, 10 on motorcycles, to do it, too – six to pin her against the wall, and the rest to guarantee that we wouldn’t free their captive. They didn’t need the beefed-up Manager to do all that.

We are used to that kind of bullying from the police, from whom we have no one to protect us. Nevertheless, in this specific situation, that ordinance was a sign of solidarity with us. As a special powers ordinance, it was aimed at the invaders. It meant the fascists were creating a special condition. But it also revealed that the only way the City Council and the Manager could think about things is through a stardard form of militarism.

Militarism is the basic ethic of this society. And I say that with a feeling of pity for those who crow about their principles of non-violence. From a small woman manhandled by six cops to the new thousands the US war machine is killing in other countries, we are surrounded by violence. Protests that we should be non-violent seem misdirected, aimed at the wrong side, and thus empty. It is like living in a wholly commodified society in which bare survival must be purchased with money, and saying “I strongly oppose buying things.”

Indeed, the very fact of corporate rule, the ability to set the making of profit above the welfare of human beings, is a form of militarism because it does not occur without guns and armies and police forces, and the threat to use them – let alone the actuality. When we act to save the oceans from the dead zones the corporations create, the mountains they strip-mine, the forests they kill, the millions of workers they press down into a morass of stupification and silence by firing and silencing those who speak out, and by putting bridles on their forms of organization, we are fighting an inherent and endemic militarism. It trickles down to us as armored vans, surveillence databases, 911 calls that bring men with assault rifles, and SWAT teams. And fascists who come to stamp out Marxism.

So I want to thank the fascists for some very edifying insights into their styles of lying. A spokesman in the media says he just came here to talk. And he got shouted down. Dear me! They certainly didn’t talk to Heather Heyer. The title of this spokesman’s demonstration was a reference to expunging Marxism from the land. Does that mean he was going to talk us into the ground until we pleadingly agreed to never think about Marxism again? Its just a form of repression.

If the fascists want to talk to us, they can contact any of us, or any of our organizations, and ask for an invitation for an individual or two to come and talk. No problem. But they come in a group uninvited to a place that doesn’t want them as a group, and we tell the world we are not interested in their vile contempt for people nor in their lies. The masks of the black bloc are infinitely more honest then these shlock-salesmen.

The media was funny about the cops. They show a fight between people not really identifiable from the air, and suggest that many fights occurred. But then they show the same clip again. So one fight equals two or many. No thanks to the fascist, we are used to that kind of reporting. They said that we, the true defenders of our city, chased the cops away (just to get to the 30 odd fascists who showed up?). It wasn’t like that at all. With four entry-points to the park, people lined up for blocks to get frisked in order to enter. They actually gave respect to the police program. The cops frisked for weapons, sticks, stones, and bad attitudes. And then they just stopped. Here’s what I saw.

I’m on Milvia and Allston at 1:10 pm., at an entry point. The street west behind the cops is empty. The intersection is sparse with people. Nothing is happening. Yet the cops all put on their gasmasks. Huh? I walk around, and see other groups of cops with gasmasks on. They are still frisking people carefully at the entry points. I go to MLK. As I get to MLK and Center, it is 1:30 pm. I see there is no one at the entry point. One can just walk in. Nobody scared the cops away. They just left their post, for whatever reason. No gas was used until a half hour later, way down Allston, where the cops had taken four fascists to get them out of the area, and a few hundred people followed them. When they were all coming back toward MLK, one saw teargas clouds in the distance, thrown by the cops. Put your cynicism hat on and your paranoia shoes, and see if you can guess what the cops were doing, abandoning their plan to guard entryways, and then using teargas in the distance against people already heading back to the park.

In the meantime, we partied, we held rallies out in the streets, wherever we happened to be, and revelled in the sun, the cool breeze of companionship, the hugs of commonality, the joy of doing something that had national significance. All in one brilliant afternoon. And because of that, along with the parties of similar kind across the bay the day before, we restored ourselves to our rightful position as occupants of this earth, as if national boundaries didn’t exist, a cheer from the deep soul of the world, an end to our dependence on elected officials to do things for us. To those who think they have political power, we were an invitation that they should disabuse themselves of that delusion. They do not have political power. They only have military power. The special ordinance passed to give the city manager special powers was a militarizing ordinance. That is all they know how to think about. They get more cops, they set up more barriers (plastic and concrete), they bring more weapons, and they launch more campaigns against us. Militarism is all they know.

But the city was ours, and we partied in the knowledge that we had won, that the thousands of us had finished what we started last April. It was a victory party.

Thank you again to the fascists for giving us a reason to party in the streets, and for bringing us together in this way.

But don’t ever f****** think about doing it again. We don’t need you.

Steve Martinot is Instructor Emeritus at the Center for Interdisciplinary Programs at San Francisco State University. He is the author of The Rule of Racialization: Class, Identity, Governance, Forms in the Abyss: a Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida (both Temple) and The Machinery of Whiteness. He is also the editor of two previous books, and translator of Racism by Albert Memmi. He has written extensively on the structures of racism and white supremacy in the United States, as well as on corporate culture and economics, and leads seminars on these subjects in the Bay Area.