Anti-racists from all over the Bay Area and beyond — student groups, faith and community organizations, unions, socialists, and groups and individuals of all kinds — are coming together to organize what will hopefully be the largest mobilization against the far right at Berkeley in recent memory on August 27.
Anti-racists have been organizing for the Bay Area Rally Against Hate since July, when neo-Nazis and other far right groups announced they would be gathering at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on August 27 and San Francisco’s Crissy Field Beach on August 26.
Since then, more than 70 organizations have added their name to the list of endorsers of the counter-mobilization, including the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, AFSCME 3299, SEIU 1021, the Alameda County Labor Council, Alameda for Black Lives, Muslim Student Association at UC Berkeley, the International Socialist Organization, several chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Alternative, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Jewish Youth for Community Action and many more.
On August 19, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 voted in favor of a stop work action and march against the fascists on August 26. The local’s resolution concludes that the ILWU, “in the best tradition of our union that fought these right-wingers in the Big Strike of 1934, will not work on that day and instead march to Crissy Field to stop the racist, fascist intimidation in our hometown and invite all unions and antiracist and antifascist organizations to join us defending unions, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and all the oppressed.”
After the white supremacist attack on anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that killed Heather Heyer and injured many more, Bay Area Rally Against Hate organizers issued a call for protests and actions across the country for a National Weekend of Solidarity Against Hate.
The purpose of the rally in Berkeley is clear: The far right is mobilizing in an effort to recruit people to their side, and they want to make Berkeley a battleground for their hate. The only way to stop them is to demonstrate the strength of our side and turn out in the kind of numbers it will take to chase them out of town.
This isn’t the first time the far right has made Berkeley a target in the months since the Trump administration’s immigrant-bashing, Islamophobia and racism have emboldened the right.
When then-Breitbart News contributor Milo Yiannopolous came to the University of California at Berkeley in February, he was met by a huge counterprotest of more than 1,000 students and others — campus officials decided to call off that event.
On March 4, far-right groups descended on Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park to bring out people they had been organizing online for a physical show of strength as part of a national mobilization called in support of Trump. The event in Berkeley was called jointly by right-wing libertarian Richard Black and the Proud Boys, a self-described group of “Western chauvinists.”
That day, the right-wingers numbered under a hundred. They clashed with Antifa activists, backed by more than 100 counterprotesters, and the hate march never began.
But in April, several factions of the “alt right” and “patriots’ movement” mobilized from up and down the West Coast to descend for a so-called “Free Speech Rally” in Berkeley. Some 50 members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia made up of former cops and soldiers, provided security. The Proud Boys were there again, as well as other far-right individuals and organizations, including the white supremacist group Identity Evropa.
This time, the right-wingers were ready for a fight, armed with pepper spray, knives, Tasers and sticks. They outnumbered the counterprotesters, who were mainly Antifa. Hundreds of scuffles began in the park and spilled out into the streets, along with several separate marches by each side. A viral video shows Identity Evropa founder and Cal State Stanislaus student Nathan Damigo punching an Antifa woman who was later stalked and threatened online.”
As this was all taking place, the UC administration was embroiled in a fight with the Berkeley College Republicans over right-wing ideologue Ann Coulter coming to campus. When the authorities canceled her speech, citing security reasons, this “only added fuel to the far-right fire, while doing nothing to contribute to a challenge against its hate and violence,” Rathi wrote.
Now the far right is returning to Berkeley. But this time, its claim to only be exercising their “free speech” is seen in a different light — not only because of their own violence last spring, but the murderous terrorism of the fascist mobilization in Charlottesville.
Charlottesville made it clear what the far right movement is about: hate, not just in words, but in brutal, violent action. When they march, they are seeking to terrorize marginalized communities, spread their racist, sexist, anti-Semitic violence and recruit more racists to their cause.
And before Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, there was Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche — murdered in June when they intervened to stop a white supremacist from harassing two young women of color on a train in Portland, Oregon. The month before that, a known neo-Nazi murdered African American student Richard W. Collins III on the University of Maryland campus.
In the Bay Area, organizers have found growing number of people who want to make their voices heard against the right. But they hadn’t been able to find a way to put their opposition in the spotlight until the organizing for the August 27 protest.
August 27 organizers emphasize building a united stand against fascism that can include as many groups and individuals who would like to fight the right as possible — a contrast to groups that have focused on trying to counter the right in small, street actions.
As Alex Schmaus, an ISO member who is part of the Rally Against Hate organizing, said in an interview:
The street fighting that took place in Berkeley in the spring between the far right and the far left created a situation where anti-fascism had become a spectator’s sport in Berkeley. What we want to do is provide a space for people in the Bay Area to see that there are many of us that want us to take a stand against racism and the far right.
The coalition behind the organizing for August 27 is committed to turning out numbers significant enough to drown out the right and show that they are vastly outnumbered.
In June, in Portland, Oregon, when the far right tried to rally again for “free speech” after the racist murders, this strategy of aiming to mobilize large numbers in a united action to confront the right, was the goal, according to Wael Elasady, who helped lead the anti-fascist rally:
It was very powerful to see unions, racial justice groups, immigrant rights groups, socialists and others arrive with their banners, marching into the rally with organized contingents. There was a brass band contingent, a Native American drumming group, families of victims of police brutality who came out, and throngs of Portland residents who brought their homemade signs.
This sent an important message — it wasn’t only a minority of left-wing activists who rejected the racism of the far right, but masses of ordinary residents of Portland.
In the Bay Area, organizers are finding out at every planning meeting how many people want to come out and show their opposition to the far right.
Abdullah Puckett, a member of the Black Student Union and Muslim Student Association at UC-Berkeley who is part of organizing the Rally Against Hate, said in an interview:
The wonderful thing about the planning process for this rally is that at each meeting, we’ve had more people, more organizations, more voices coming out to support this demonstration. It’s been wonderful seeing how many people are out there who wanted to do something like this and have now found a group that is putting it together.
As in Portland in June, there is pressure on people to stay at home. In a blog post, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin told people avoid the rally. Members of labor and community groups mobilizing for the protest say the mayor met with them to try and dissuade them from attending. But so far, these groups still plan to turn out.
The city is also trying to make it more difficult for anti-racist protesters. On August 18, the Berkeley City Council passed an “urgency ordinance” allowing the city manager to issue temporary rules for large public events, including banning items that city officials deem can be used as weapons.
However, the 40,000-strong August 19 demontration against the far right in Boston has showed how organizing to build the biggest united force can defeat the fascists.
August 27 is the next step in mobilizing to push back the far right — not only in the Bay Area, but in cities across the country as part of the Weekend of Solidarity Against Hate.
With Donald Trump condemning “both sides” equally in Charlottesville, it’s clear that we need to get organized to fight the right and the hate-mongers, from the top of society on down. Through these mobilizations and the networks forged to counter white supremacists, we can build the basis for an ongoing opposition to not only the far right, but the Trump regime, too.