On Sunday, August 27, 2017 the Alt-right scheduled a rally for Civic Park in Berkeley, CA. Although the city of Berkeley did not provide a permit for this rally, the Alt-right came anyway. Their numbers were few and they were met Sunday morning (ca. 10am) by a larger group of Antifas dressed in black with masks; a presentation commonly known as black block. It has been reported that some violence and arrests took place during this morning encounter. Total arrests reported were 13; total injured reported was 6.
At 12:30 pm a group of about 1000 clergy and people of faith gathered at First Congregational Church in Berkeley in preparation for a peaceful march to Civic Park as an anti-protest effort. The group, led by Rev. Michael McBride and Rev. Ben McBride of PICO International, left First Congo around 1:15 and began the march toward Civic Park. People were dressed in blue jeans, khaki pants, t-shirts, colorful garb, and many clergy wore robes and/or stoles. There were no weapons, there were no masks, there were no helmets. We were armed with protest and gospel songs and the spirit of justice as an expression of public love.
As we made our way down Hearst Avenue to MLK we sang songs; careful at every moment to remain in the street so as not to destroy any property. Many came out of their homes and hung out their windows to cheer us on. Many joined us as we passed by. At Shattuck Avenue we paused for a few minutes, obstructing the intersection, and sang a song. Along Hearst we met up with at least one additional group at one of the intersections. By the time we reached Civic Park the group had swelled to 4000.
I stayed with the group the entire time and saw zero violence or destruction of property. We arrived at Civic Park around 2 pm. By then the altercations from the morning were long over. We were a peaceful group of 4000 people making a statement—clearly stating that racism and injustice of every kind does not belong in Berkeley, CA.
Since Sunday, the Berkeley police chief and the media have conflated the events of the day. They have juxtaposed the morning altercations between the Alt-right and the Antifa to the peaceful march of the 4000. This is a dishonest presentation of the facts. Simultaneously, hurricane Harvey was pounding the south of Texas, hitting Houston particularly hard. Many have commented on social media that those marching in Berkeley should have been putting their dollars and resources toward Houston. This is an obvious ploy to take the issue of race off the table.
Indeed, Hurricane Harvey is a devastating situation that must be attended too. I am sending my dollars ASAP through two different respected and trustworthy agencies. Simultaneously, Nazis and the KKK are horrific groups that have wrecked devastation and horror in the lives of millions of people. Sunday, August 27, 2017, was not a day to decide that one devastation was more important than the other, it was not a day for an either-or decision but a day for a both-and decision. There are at least 4000 people in Berkeley that are not willing to allow the nay-sayers to deter us from standing up to racist hate speech.
Simultaneously, the media wishes to portray the 4000 Berkeley peace marchers as violent terrorists. This is a distortion of the facts and it is an irresponsible communication of the events that took place. Such media coverage is yet one more attempt to take the issue of racism off the table. To suggest that the 4000 engaged in violence and mayhem is to discredit their efforts and their message. I attended the march for this very purpose, so that I would know first hand what took place and would not have to rely on the reports of others. From the time the inter-faith group left First Congregational Church to the time the group disbanded to return home there was no violence or destruction of property. Only strong statements of anti-racism and justice for all.
May our brothers and sisters in south Texas be tended to; all of them! Black, brown, yellow, and white; rich, poor, and Middle class; transgendered, gay, female, and male. And may there be peace and justice in our nation.
LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD
VP of Academics and Professor of Old Testament
American Baptist Seminary of the West at
The Graduate Theological Union