The entire business about the Berkeley City Council’s resolution declaring the marine recruiters “unwelcome” intruders demonstrates just how low political discourse has sunk in modern American society. It has once again reaffirmed my view that Berkeley, for all its so-called political activism, is filled with people who are ideologues first and independent thinkers second, or third, or maybe not at all.
First of all, I see nothing wrong with the City Council granting Code Pink a spot in front of the recruitment center to protest. After all, citizens have the right to assemble, and the City Council is only upholding what is constitutionally allowed for every American.
But what I don’t get is why they had to adopt the language that they did. First of all, the language makes a conceptual mistake by conflating protest against the war against the people who fight in it. These two things are conceptually distinct, and it is possible to be against the war but for the people who fight in it.
Second, in adopting the language that it did, the City Council is weighing the right of free expression unequally against the recruiters. After all, the recruiters are not coercing people into signing up for the marine corps, and neither are they doing anything illegal. The marine recruiters have just much of a right to try to recruit people as CodePink has a right to protest. Why does the City Council have to take a fucking side? Both organizations have equal right to express themselves under the law.
Third, as much as CodePink has an unequivocal right to protest, the content of their protest is illogical. Their claim is that their protest is a call to bring the troops home. Sure, that is a goal which I can agree with, but how is protesting against recruitment related to bringing the troops home? These are two separate issues. If CodePink really wants to bring the troops home, they should write their representatives and the president. I don’t see how protesting against recruiting, which by the way is totally legal and non-coercive, can bring the troops home. Nobody is being forced to sign up: I get approached by these recruiters sometimes, and I just say no, and they leave me alone.
Thus, what should have been a relatively unproblematic case of each organization’s exercising of their constitutional rights in a legal manner turned into a national brouhaha simply because the Berkeley City Council is not conceptually precise in their language.
Of course the backlash is just as reactionary and dogmatic. Of course all the old stereotypes about “Bersekeley” are raised again by the right. After all, how is holding federal funds for CA programs a just “retribution” for what the city of Berkeley did or said? Why should other programs not in Berkeley suffer because of a conceptual imprecision?
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present you the circus that has become our modern political dialogue: dogmatic, knee-jerk, reactionary fanatics on both sides demonizing each other, totally refusing to see any trace of legitimacy in the other’s claims, and creating a public spectacle which will produce no tangible results at all in the long run.
This is how our political discourse has devolved: into pure theatre of the absurd.
How ironic that Berkeley is known for its free-speech movement in the 60s is now the very city that seeks to deny free speech to a perfectly legal governmental organization.
My how the times have changed.
And this is just not an isolated incident: this is the pattern for pretty much all kinds of political discourse on the Berkeley campus. All has to do is just look at how the “Peace Not Prejudice” week turned out to know.
This is why, over the last four years, I have become increasingly disenchanted by Berkeley’s so-called “liberal activism.” No, the activism of the 60s is gone; now it’s replaced by absurdity and theatre. Berkeley’s “activism” has become a corporate brand to sell to incoming students who still harbor a romantic, if misconceived, notion of what Berkeley is.
And like me, they will be suckered into it.