Protests Follow Recruiting Center to Berkeley

Contact Jessica Kwong at [email protected]

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Recent protests over a U.S. Marine Corps recruiting center that relocated its office to Downtown Berkeley early this year have rekindled debate over the military’s presence in the liberal city.

The women’s anti-war organization Code Pink has demonstrated outside the office every Wednesday since Sept. 26, when it put signs with messages such as “Recruiters Lie, Children Die” on the building. The group says it will continue its protests until the center leaves town.

The group’s actions have prompted a counter-protest planned for today led by conservative groups like Move America Forward.

The office, which serves the northern half of the Bay Area, is perceived as a threat to the community by some city officials and anti-war residents.

“It’s very unfortunate that they opened a recruitment office in Berkeley,” said City Councilmember Linda Maio. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for this town. I don’t think it reflects the sentiments of the citizens.”

The City Council plans to voice its disapproval of the center’s mission through its Peace and Justice Commission, which is spearheading a proposal to make Berkeley a sanctuary for officers who choose not to serve in the Iraq conflict, meaning the city would not assist in locating or prosecuting war resisters.

“Berkeley already had resolutions passed in the ‘80s and ‘90s that involved making it a sanctuary for conscientious objectors,” said Commissioner Bob Meola. “The most patriotic thing a person in the U.S. military could do today would be to refuse to fight, because the war in Iraq violates international and U.S. laws, it’s unconstitutional.”

The proposal reaffirms a year-old city resolution in support of Ehren Watada, an Army First Lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq may face a court martial.

“There’s a growing number of the military and members of the armed forces who are seeing that the Iraq war is immoral,” said Steve Freedkin, chair of the city commission. “As we saw in Vietnam, when there starts to be a strong opposition in the military, it has a huge impact on public policy.”

Despite the opposition, the center has no plans to relocate, said head recruiter and Marine Capt. Richard Lund.

“I think the vast majority of people understand that my mission of helping college students become Marine Corps officers is not somehow driven by the conflict in Iraq,” he said. “This office was functioning before the war and it will continue to function long after the war.”

Lund said he chose to move the Marine Recruiting Center from its previous location in Alameda in order to be close to UC Berkeley.

Military officials say they are rarely disturbed by complaints on-campus.

“Every once in a while we get a couple of condescending comments, but for the most part, the town in general has been pretty understanding and we haven’t had many problems,” said Scott Schreiber, administrative officer of the Naval ROTC unit.

The ROTC has a long history on campus, where it first took root in 1926 when service was mandatory for able males, according to Frank Golbeck, a former midshipman in the unit.

“Given the present time, it’s important that people come out of elite universities (because) their presence gives more diversity in representation and breadth of knowledge,” Golbeck said.

The recruiting center should continue trying to meet that need, Lund said.

“Given that the military is an all-volunteer force, I see nothing wrong with educating interested individuals on this path as a career choice, regardless of where it takes place,” he said.


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