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Berlekey City Council: Marines ’Unwelcome Intruders’ in City

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 6, 2008

In Berkeley, City Council members who called the U.S. Marines "unwelcome intruders" are sticking by several resolutions passed last week partly due to the military's policy against openly gay troops.

Last week, the Berkeley City Council passed several resolutions, including the statement that the Marine recruiting station in the city poses a presence by "uninvited and unwelcome intruders."

Other resolutions written by Council members Betty Olds and Laurie Capitelli and passed by the Council include a request to the city attorney to look into whether the Marines are in violation of local anti-discrimination laws, and granting parking and a permit to protest the Marines to a group called Code Pink.

Meantime, following a controversy--and threats from a SC Republican senator to look into depriving the city of Federal funds--the Council is scheduled to consider retracting the statement calling the Marines "unwelcome" and "intruders."

Said Capitelli, "I would prefer they recruit somewhere else, but they have a constitutional and legal right to be here," the Oakland Tribune reported today.

The Tribune story quoted Capitelli as further saying, "If they decide to be here, then there are actions [protesters] can take, and the Marines will have to decide whether that's an acceptable price to pay to be in Berkeley."

Added Capitelli, "That's their decision to make, but not the City Council's decision."

The mayor's office also indicated through a spokesperson that the city mayor, Tom Bates, would vote in favor of retracting the statement, which effectively invited the Marines to leave the city, even though Bates had said before that he would be willing to help arrange matters so that the Marine Corps could end its lease on the space occupied by the recruitment center early.

As quoted in a Feb. 2 story in the Tribune, Bates said, "I spoke with the landlord, who is a very nice friend of mine... I'm sure if they wanted we could work it out..."

Bates added, "The situation there has disrupted the whole block."

Republican S.C. Sen. Jim DeMint said that he would target Federal funds to the city, an action that, the Tribune noted, would impact public safety, the University of California at Berkeley, and the city's public school system, including school lunches for children.

The Feb. 2 article quoted DeMint's Web site, where the senator wrote, "This is a slap in the face to all brave service men and women and their families."

Continued DeMint, "The First Amendment gives the city of Berkeley the right to be idiotic, but from now on they should do it with their own money."

Added the senator, "I am currently drafting legislation to ensure that American taxpayers aren't forced to pay for this insult by rescinding all of the earmarks for Berkeley in the Omnibus Appropriations bill, and to transfer the funds to the Marine Corps."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Calif. Democrat, indicated through a spokesperson that she would oppose DeMint's attempt to strip the city of funding.

Boxer's spokesperson, Natalie Ravitz, said, "Sen. DeMint may not like what the Berkeley City Council has to say, but to punish the children, police, first responders and the university for something they had nothing to do with is just plain wrong."

Marines stationed in Berkeley were somewhat more measured. The Feb. 2 article in the Tribune quoted Gunnery Sgt. Pauline Franklin, who said, "I can't predict the future, but I will tell you at this point there is no reason for us to leave."

Continued Franklin, "We take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, and part of the Constitution is the right of free speech, and the fact that they are exercising their rights solidifies our resolve to continue what we are doing."

Not all of the Berkeley City Council members agreed with the resolutions that were passed last week, and there is some disagreement about how to proceed next.

The Tribune cited Councilmember Linda Maio, who said that a resolution she wants to make would specify that "any member of the military" is welcome in the city, even though she does not wish to see the recruiting station remain.

Said Maio, "That's an important distinction to make."

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak also expressed reservations; Wozniak had voted against resolutions calling for the recruiting station to cease operations, and about the proposal to rescind the statement calling the Marines "unwelcome," Wozniak said, "It's not clear a majority of the council will change its viewpoint on this."

However, Wozniak continued, "I think the item needs some clarification. I support what they are trying to do."

Still, Wozniak added, "We should also apologize."

Said Wozniak, "I'm a strong supporter of the peace movement, but I think it's important to show support for our veterans and the people risking their lives in the military today."

But another Councilmember, Dona Spring, had other priorities when it came to the future of the resolution.

Said Spring, "I'm going to try to work to amend this resolution to make sure we're expressing our full opposition to the military policies and that we do not feel it's appropriate for any military recruiting to be done in Berkeley."

Added Spring, "I definitely feel the message to the Marines should be, 'You need to go,' and I'm not backing down on it."

The San Francisco Chronicle responded to the fracas with an editorial in which it struck a skeptical tone toward both sides, calling the City council's resolution "a foolish crusade," and noting that, "The motion approved by the council includes a number of remarkable statements: 'The United States has a history of launching illegal, immoral and unprovoked wars of aggression' and 'The military recruiters are sales people known to lie to and seduce minors,'" but also looking askance at DeMint's threat to yank federal dollars out of the city, saying, "Sorry senator, we don't see the connection--or sense of fairness."

Code Pink, meantime, is not the only group set to mount protests; Move Forward America has issued a release saying that the group, which is pro-military, will protest Berkeley's City Council on Tuesday.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.