On January 29, the Berkeley city council voted 6-3 to tell the U.S. Marine Corps that it “is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders.” This is the council’s way of expressing its disagreement with President Bush over the war. But the council went beyond just words by granting Codepink, an anti-war group, special rights to non-violently “impede, passively or actively” the work of the recruiters.
By an 8-1 vote, the council further provided “residents and organizations such as Codepink” the means to harass the community’s sole recruiting station. Specifically, the council designated parking space for Codepink in front of the Marine office and awarded the radicals a free sound permit for protesting one afternoon each week for the next six months.
The only dissenting council member, Gordan Wozniak, expressed concern that the council’s action was “showing favoritism.” “I think the Marine recruiters are just doing their job,” said Wozniak, a retired nuclear scientist who, despite his support for the Marines, opposes the war.
Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, which presented the recommendation to the council, argued that the Marine Corps “is being used as one of the means of perpetrating and prolonging illegal, unconstitutional and unnecessary wars of the United States.”
At the same meeting the council directed the city attorney to investigate options for legally ousting the recruiting station by enforcing its law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; this because of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” homosexual ban.
Even before the city council joined the anti-Marine campaign, the recruiters were publicly harassed. Last September, Codepink initiated a series of “direct actions” against the Marines, with the intent of driving them from the city. Codepink repeatedly blocked the recruiting office with its school bus which bears signs that read “Impeach Bush-Cheney now!” and “Congress: Get some spine! Impeach & End the War!” Boisterous Codepink protesters also scrawled messages on the recruiter’s doorstep – “Recruiters out of Berkeley! Military free zone!!! Killing children doesn’t defend my freedom!” and “No blood for oil!!”
The Marines were not without their defenders who often stood across the street shouting at Codepink protesters. One counter protestor, a mother of a Marine in Iraq, said "We are not going to let Codepink disgrace our military heroes; my son is a hero, so are all the others."
The Marines, although subdued, tastefully displayed in the station’s window a quote from the 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill: “War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”
The officer in charge responded to Codepink’s allegations via an open letter to the local paper. He acknowledged their right to speak but objected to their messages scrawled on his front step. The Corps does not lie and recruiters are not traitors argued Captain Richard Lund. He asked where Codepink would find peace keepers the group advocates sending to Darfur (Sudan) if there was no military.
The situation could worsen for the Marines. On January 30, local activists launched a petition to put a measure on the November ballot that would require military recruiting offices and private military companies to first acquire a special use permit. The permit process mandates public hearings and a comment period.
The measure also states that military recruiting offices must be at least 600 feet from residential districts, public parks, public health clinics, public libraries, schools or churches. Sharon Adams, an attorney and author of the initiative, said she modeled the measure after current zoning law that restricts the location of adult-oriented businesses.
Berkeley has long been the epicenter of America’s anti-war movement. The radical Students for a Democratic Society was started in Berkeley and most anti-Vietnam organizations were founded there.
That tradition found new life with the war on terror. In 2001, the city council called for an end to the bombing of Afghanistan just weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Berkeley’s US Congresswoman Barbara Lee cast the lone vote against granting President Bush military authority in Afghanistan.
In 2006, the city council and voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure calling for the impeachment of President Bush, citing “high crimes and misdemeanors” related to the war in Iraq.
In 2006, the city council withdrew a traditional benefit from the Sea Scouts because its parent organization, the Boy Scouts of America, holds a “religious belief” that does not allow homosexuals or atheists in positions of leadership. Berkeley traditionally provides free berthing privileges to nonprofit groups at a city marina. The Scouts must now pay $6,000 a year for those services.
Berkeley is a classic liberal community. A 2005 study by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research declared the Bay Area America’s most liberal region and Berkeley the third most liberal city in America.
The Pew Research Center pinpoints what liberal communities such as Berkeley believe. They strongly prefer diplomacy over use of military force. They are pro-abortion and support “homosexual-marriage.” They have low participation in religious activities and tend to be sympathetic to illegal immigrants as well as labor unions and oppose the anti-terrorism Patriot Act.
It matters when communities like Berkeley try to run the military out of town. Our armed forces exist to defend America’s way of life which includes the right to disagree. Rogue city council’s that refuse access to our military recruiters, however, put themselves above the nation’s collective interest.
The Solomon Act addressed the problem created when liberal universities denied recruiters access to their campuses because of the Pentagon’s homosexual ban. In 1995, Congress passed the Act denying those schools any funds from the Department of Defense. The law’s reach was subsequently extended to other federal pockets and remains in effect today. Most liberal institutions grudgingly reversed their policies and now recruiters are allowed on campuses.
A similar act for cities would force communities such as Berkeley to act more responsibly. They depend on federal aid for schools, roads, utilities, libraries, and health care. Cities that deny recruiters access should be denied these benefits.
Last Friday, US Senator Jim Demint, South Carolina, said Berkeley no longer deserves federal money due to its action to remove Marine recruiters. “This is a slap in the face to all brave service men and women and their families,” said Demint. He promises to draft legislation to rescind any earmarks dedicated for Berkeley in the recent appropriations bill and then transfer those funds to the Marines.
Our national leaders should quickly pass a law that denies funds to communities that stiff-arm military recruiters.