NYT : Where Marines Are Called ‘Intruders’ and Recruiting Office Is Unwelcome

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Where Marines Are Called ‘Intruders’ and Recruiting Office Is Unwelcome

By JESSE McKINLEY | February 12, 2008

BERKELEY, Calif. — On Tuesday night, the nine members of the Berkeley City Council are expected to do something they, or the Marines, for that matter, very rarely do: retreat in the face of fierce opposition.

“The staff are supposed to be there to protect us from our stupidity,” said Councilwoman Betty Olds, who is 87, as feisty as a cornered rattlesnake and a leader of the retrenchment. “And they didn’t do any better than we did.”

For weeks, the Council has been at the heart of a mess related to its proclamation that the Marines — them that stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima — were not welcome to run their three-person recruiting office downtown.

The Council, with its staff’s concurrence, apparently, also set aside a parking spot one day a week in front of the office for Code Pink, an antiwar group that aims to disrupt the recruiters and, like all Californians, loves a good parking spot.

The parking and the proclamation, which called the Marines “uninvited and unwelcome intruders,” sparked an angry response in the form of hundreds of telephone calls, thousands of e-mail messages and countless hours of “How dare they!” on the radio and elsewhere.

Typical of the outrage was a posting on Monday on Townhall.com, a conservative Web site, that decried “patchouli-smelling Berkeley hippies” and “radical antimilitary haters.”

“Groups like Code Pink and the Berkeley City Council don’t care about freedom,” a poster, Sgt. Seth Conner, blogged. “They only care about saddling another generation — my generation — with their hippie-loving propaganda.”

The shock and awe extended to Washington and Sacramento, where Republican elected officials proposed withholding millions in state and federal money for Berkeley for programs like school lunches and transportation.

So it is that on Tuesday, amid the glare of television cameras and protesters on both sides, the Council is scheduled to consider another resolution that affirms its opposition to the Iraq war but also expresses support for the “men and women who voluntarily serve this country.”

Mayor Tom Bates, who was in the Army and seems slightly bewildered by the backlash, said the resolution would be “a substitute for what we’ve had out there.”

“Actually I wouldn’t even call it a substitute,” Mr. Bates said a moment later. “I think it’s just a restating of our policy.”

The proclamation, drafted by Ms. Olds and another Council member, Laurie Capitelli, will also back off a request to the city manager to send a letter to the Marine Corps commandant with the “uninvited and unwelcome” language.

In another concession, Mr. Bates said other groups would be invited to apply for parking spots for their protests. “If someone wants a Monday or a Tuesday,” he said, “they would be entitled to get it.” None of which is likely to appease critics.

“It would be astonishing if they did something meaningful like apologize, not only to the military, or the Marines, but to the families of service members,” said Melanie Morgan, host of a conservative talk show and leader of Move America Forward, which backs troops. “They are finding out that the rest of America doesn’t go along with their kooky politics.”

Ms. Morgan said her supporters would protest on Tuesday at City Hall with a poster board depicting a marine with his mouth taped shut.

Code Pink also plans a vigil. A co-founder, Medea Benjamin, said she welcomed the fight. “They’ll come from out of town and stage their show and then they’ll go home, and we’ll have a galvanized base,” Ms. Benjamin said. “They’ve helped us draw a line in the sand.”

It is not completely surprising that line is in this liberal enclave of 100,000 people. The Council regularly takes up foreign policy and other faraway issues. But even veterans of the scene say the Marine hoopla is one for the books.

Ms. Olds, who voted for the parking spot but not the language about the Marines, said she had never seen such a response. Not that the Council did not deserve it, she added.

“I live in the hills,” Ms. Olds said. “And they don’t like this one bit.”