Battle for Berkeley: The Fascist Ben Shapiro Speaks… Students Step Up and Stand Up
Reprinted from revcom.us.
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In the face of fascist intellectual hitman Ben Shapiro, and in the teeth of a massive mobilization of police and police shutdown of much of the core public space on the UC Berkeley campus, an estimated 1,500 students and members of the university community joined in the speak-out called by Refuse Fascism (“NO, Ben Shapiro, the Problem Is NOT ‘Campus Thuggery,’ The Problem Is Fascist Intellectual Thuggery IN THE Service of the Trump/Pence Fascist Regime”). Students, professors, people from the community, activists, and others spoke with passion and depth, from many angles, denouncing the regime, the fascist assault on the university, and digging into much, much more. At the same time, defying the police lockdown of the campus, dozens of students staged a sit-in in the MLK student union nearby in protest. The whole day represented a very important emergence of opposition from within the university, and from the community as well, to the Trump/Pence regime and to the assault by fascists on the universities (with the aid of the liberals running UC Berkeley).
Shapiro was invited to UC by the Berkeley College Republicans, and was given the biggest auditorium on the campus for free by Chancellor Carol Christ. Starting early in the morning, the campus was turned into an armed camp—concrete barriers were installed along streets and walkways, six major buildings, including the student union, and all the space between them (this includes the historic Sproul Plaza and another large plaza in front of the auditorium) were completely closed off by 4 pm. UC Police were reportedly brought in from all 10 UC campuses. Berkeley Police were also mobilized. In a show of force, a contingent of motorcycle cops rode in formation down the closed street next to campus. There were military vehicles and police dogs. Rules were changed to threaten and intimidate the people and unleash the police: Two days before, the city of Berkeley held a special city council meeting to authorize the use of pepper spray against anti-fascist protesters (pepper spray during protests has been banned for 20 years in Berkeley.) Checkpoints and metal detectors were installed at heavily guarded “access points” and only people with tickets to hear Shapiro and who showed their IDs were allowed in. A student watching the scene in simultaneous disgust and amazement said: “Is this a university or a prison?”
But all of this failed to intimidate. On the tiny bit of public space which the state left open for opposition, Refuse Fascism was out agitating and calling people forward all day long before the event. Students crowded around the table with Refuse Fascism materials. In the electric atmosphere, mass debate broke out hours before the speak-out was supposed to start. Fascists and a range of reactionary voices that were coming into Berkeley for the Shapiro event challenged Refuse Fascism and were in turn taken on by students and others. Refuse Fascism then cranked up a big sound system and started the speak-out, setting out from the start that this was about a whole fascist assault on the universities as a crucial link in the fascist transformation of America—that in the name of humanity, this could NOT be accepted.
The speakers called on students and others to step forward and join the speak-out. Many, many students and others stepped up on the improvised milk-crate stage over a period of four hours, speaking with passion and clarity.
A highlight of the speak-out came when Sunsara Taylor made an extremely important and exciting announcement: “Bob Avakian, the most radical revolutionary alive, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, author of the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, former student at Cal and an active participant in the Free Speech Movement will speak at UC Berkeley in April 2018 on freedom of expression and communist revolution; and, as part of this, he will be exposing and refuting the LIES and distortions of Chancellor Christ about the Free Speech Movement.”
Refuse Fascism speakers also called on the crowd to start organizing for November 4, and led a call and response with the crowd pledging, in the name of humanity to go “into the streets, and stay in the streets, day after day and night after night until the fascists are off our streets, off of our campuses and out of the White House.”
At the same time that the speak-out was righteously denouncing the regime and the clampdown, students had gathered inside the student union building, one of the buildings which was locked down and cleared of everyone except police. The students had decided they would refuse to leave and they very visibly did not leave, putting up signs in the windows that could be seen from the outside. At a certain point, the authorities said students could stay, but they had to give their IDs. The students, as an act of resistance, refused to give their IDS. A student who had been inside later summed up that some were there because they felt their rights as students were being violated, some were there because they opposed fascism, and some wanted to demilitarize the campus, and together they made a very important and powerful statement.
At a certain point, the students sitting in inside the building sent word that police were threatening them with arrest—so the speak-out moved down the street, in sight of the students inside, directly supporting them. A cell phone held up to the mic outside amplified the words of the students speaking from inside. The crowd outside warmly supported the students and their demand that police allow them to leave, as they had planned, after Shapiro finished speaking—without arrest or punishment. After a long time, the students were able to leave without incident—to huge cheers from the crowd. All this in front of massive phalanxes of police.
The atmosphere throughout was incredibly tense and politically charged. Throughout the day, large and small debates, discussions, arguments swirled around the whole area even as the speak-out was going on over the loudspeaker. In some of the circles of debate, semi-professional fascist agitators were surrounded by crowds of students, arguing against them. In others, amateur fascist agitators or Trump supporters were circled in the same way. And in others, students with no fascists at all in their group were intensely engaged in discussion of questions like how to understand white supremacy and what to do about it. Students who had been ousted from their classrooms by the security arrangements for Shapiro joined in the protest and sat in a circle in the middle of the street, studying and talking.
The police made at least nine outrageous arrests, including of a Refuse Fascism activist for carrying one of the indictment panels down the street. TV broadcast mug shots of the arrestees with police captions that said these people were charged with having “banned weapons.” In the case of the activist with Refuse Fascism, it was the large sign exposing the Trump regime’s attacks on Muslims.
These are not normal times, this was not a normal day, and the response of the people to all of this was not normal either—the powerful Refuse Fascism speak-out, the breadth of people who joined in, and the actions of the students inside the student union were very much on time, and point to the basis to mount further and more powerful opposition.
And this will definitely be needed. Starting September 24, the fascists are staging four days of speeches with a veritable who’s who of Trump-supporting Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists, xenophobes, and other alt-right bigots and hate-mongers. Promoted and headlined by Milo Yiannopoulos, speakers include Ann Coulter, Steve Bannon, David Horowitz, Erik Prince (creator of Blackwater mercenaries), Pamela Geller, Charles Murray, InfoWars radio host Mike Cernovich, and James Damore, fired from Google for a memo attacking and mocking women. These fascist forces are throwing down hard at UC Berkeley, the liberals running the university are doing everything they can to help them, and a great deal hinges on what the students, professors, and the university community will do to stand up and refuse to accept a fascist America. The speak-out and student sit-in were an inspiring, and extremely important, first step.