On Sunday, Aug 27, 2017, over 4,000 activists crowded Oxford street in Berkeley to join the “Rally against Hate.” This rally had been scheduled to take place on the U.C. Berkeley campus lawn near Oxford and Addison Streets, several blocks away from and preceding a “No to Marxism in America” rally that was scheduled, then canceled, for that afternoon at Civic Center Park (Martin Luther King Jr. Park). A counter demonstration against the alt-right at the Civic Center Park location was scheduled for later that same day.
At a little after 10am, under clear skies and warm weather, the peaceful rally was happily noisy with a carnival atmosphere. People were passing out water to the crowd and coolers were set up with fruit for activists to take. Friends were greeting one another and children in strollers were holding signs displaying butterflies and hearts.
Then it happened. Two men wearing Trump paraphernalia, walking among the crowd whining petulantly that they had a right to be there, drew the attention of the festive crowd. Tensions rose. That’s when a small group of the “Rally against Hate” counter demonstrators, sporting the Groucho Marx (pun on Marx – Groucho instead of Karl) mustache, nose, eyebrow and glasses mask, marched up to the two men, surrounded them, wiggled fake cigars in the air and one declared “I never forget a face, but in your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.” Without another word, they walked off in unison, mimicking the famous Groucho gait. Clearly, they had planned for the confrontation and executed it perfectly. Children giggled. Some of us guffawed and the Trump guys were thereafter ignored.
The thousands of counter protesters were enclosed by barricades, removing the demonstration from its planned location on the U.C. Campus to the street. Behind the barricades over 100 members of the UC Berkeley Police Department kept watch while musicians played impromptu peace tunes on brass instruments.
Colorful signs and banners declared: “Berkeley Stands United Against Hate”, “Hate Speech is not Free”, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this s@#t– Stop Fascists” and “White silence = Violence”. Demonstrators wore shirts and hats that maintained the same theme and the “Rally against Hate” organizers delivered speeches from an open flatbed truck. The sound system was poor, so I could only hear from 10 feet away, but we all cheered to what we trusted were good messages.
The rules –imposed by the City Manager at the behest of the Berkeley City Council, especially for the unpermitted events of the day, against sticks, eggs and bandanas covering the face– were strictly enforced. But water bottles and balloons received a pass at this rally. I witnessed this personally as I scrambled back and forth over the barriers taking pictures and carrying these items with no harassment.
Most of activists from this rally were getting ready to march to Civic Center Park at noon. There the atmosphere promised to be somewhat different.