The Great White Carnival: Thoughts on the Berkeley Riot

The Great White Carnival: Thoughts on the Berkeley Riot February 2, 2017

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I got on Facebook, nibbling a gluten-free waffle. I just wanted to complain to my friends. It’s what I do.

Then a pop-up appeared in the corner of my screen. “Live: Anti-Fascist Demonstration in Berkeley.”

I am against fascism and deeply against Tv’s Donald Trump. I’ve been watching the protests all over the country. I put in my earbud and watched this one.

It was more than a demonstration. Something was burning– something that looked like an ice cream pushcart, but turned out to be a light fixture.  A bemused reporter was explaining that there had been a protest against Milo Yiannopoulus, and that it had been crashed by anarchists dressed in black. The police were on their way.

I opened a tab, and typed in a status.

They’re rioting in Berkeley!

The reporter announced that the police were actually on the balcony of a nearby building. Then I heard a rat-a-tat-tat.

I updated my status.

The police just opened fire with rubber bullets.

I wondered if I was about to watch tragic and blood-drenched history being made. I saw flashes of white light sparking off the light fixture.

Oh God, that sound was not rubber bullets. The light fixture is still live, it’s shooting sparks.

By this point, my friends were commenting on my status as well; rather than copying and pasting the link to the video I was watching. I started liveblogging. It got very silly.

I stand corrected once more. BOTH rubber bullets and the sparking light fixture.

One of the policemen on the balcony announced that the protesters were an unlawful assembly; he began reading an itemized list of threats including tear gas. He told the protesters that they had ten minutes to disperse. It dawned on me that I was hearing something I’d read about many times, but never once heard before.

I have never heard the police literally read the riot act before. It’s happening.

 Protesters began darting in to the clear space in front of the fire, crouching, and darting back out. A pillar of white fell down onto the fire from the balcony where the police were; the students screamed curses at the pillar of white, and then went back to jumping to the fire and back. I realized what they were doing.

Berkeley people are posing for selfies in front of the fire as the police try to extinguish it from the balcony.

The police have declared “Tear gas in ten minutes.” Students are lighting joints in the fire.

They really were. They were crouching by the electrical fire which had been live and shooting sparks a minute ago, lighting hand-rolled cigarettes.

Their concerns are real, their anger is justified, but could there be a more first-world-priveleged-young-people riot in all of history? They are taking turns taking selfies in front of the vandalized light fixture and lighting their cigarettes in the fire. They’re in flip-flops and shorts. I can’t even take it seriously.

 Then I noticed the writing on the cardboard riot shields a number of students were carrying.

Why do they all have signs that say “trans [deleted] are good and pure?”

None of my friends could tell me.

“It means they all have Tumblr accounts,” my friend from Oregon said finally.

The police read the riot act again.

Yannopolis has left. Police are threatening gas in ten minutes again. Ten minutes after the last warning.

The storming of the Bastille this is not. It’s like The Riot in the Magical White People World With No Consequences.

It’s turned into an illegal rave.

“It’s Berkeley,” said my friend the pediatrician.

I mentioned in a comment that the reporter said they were something called the “Anti-fac.”

“Antifa,” said my friend who goes to protests.

“I’m an anarcho-communist, and those pretentious [deleted] don’t speak for me,” said my communist friend.

“No one said they did,” consoled the friend who goes to protests.

The reporter was so bored with the riot that he turned around to film the damage to the auditorium. They’d broken the windows with paintball guns. The reporter kept mentioning that the students had not committed any vandalism until Antifa showed up.

Next thing I knew, there was a cat fight. One woman screaming “F*ck you!” punched a man in a balaclava, and next thing I knew there were six or seven white people inexpertly swinging at one another. A loud rap song drowned out the protesters’ screams; one of the women made a bizarre noise I’d never heard at an American riot.

Ululation. We’ve got ululation. Somebody’s got a very loud radio as well.

 The reporter said that the fight had started because an Antifa member had snatched a “Make America Great Again” hat off of a counter-protester’s head, set fire to it, then bloodied the counter-protester’s face.
The Antifa also pepper sprayed and/or tear gassed a group of counter-protesters, and now it’s back to a dance party in the street.

It’s just like an awkward night at the club hosted by guys dressed like the cultists from “The Final Sacrifice” now.

And it was. The protesters alternately danced to the annoying rap music and screamed curses at the police, who responded with a halfhearted rain of rubber bullets that didn’t seem to hurt a single person. Most of the dancers were Berkeley students in jean shorts and flip flops, but a few were Antifa in balaclavas waving red and black flags in time to the music. Every ten minutes, the ten-minute warning was repeated by the police.

Once, the police actually said “You have ten minutes. Thank you.”

They thanked them.

I finally saw the source of the music, as flag-waving Antifa wheeled a very large cart with a Volkswagon-sized speaker on it past the protesters in a morose parade. The police could have stopped the whole thing by dropping a net over them, but nothing happened.

If these people weren’t white they’d all be dead three times over already.

They didn’t die. They were barely inconvenienced. Finally, after an hour of warnings, the police lobbed a couple of gas canisters. The protesters looked genuinely surprised and offended, like five-year-olds who don’t know why they’ve been sent to time out. Then they gave up, and it was back to dancing.

My Orthodox friend said, “My knowledge of contemporary antifa organizations is that they show up to peaceful protests, co-op some other group’s struggle against oppression without permission, and escalate for no other reason than “lol anarchy, bro!” I could be wrong. But that’s literally all I’ve seen them do for the past 2 weeks.”

My communist friend railed against their “bad praxis.”

 A single person was rushed into the auditorium, bleeding.
The protesters kept dancing.
They were still dancing when I got off the computer and went to clean the living room.
When I got back, they’d been joined by an actual brass band. There were trumpets, trombones and a big bass drum. Someone else was setting off little fireworks.
It turned into a Carnival march, down the streets of Berkeley, with many smashed windows and burned trash cans. Slogans were scrawled in Sharpie on ATMs. Lots of damage, lots of noise, plenty for republicans to blame all non-republicans for and claim we’re dangerous. Plenty to rail against and demand that the police use more force next time. Plenty that’s going to get less privileged protesters hurt or killed at the next demonstration.
“Everyone’s so proud of us, y’all!” screamed a protester.
When I gave up watching, they were still dancing.
They’re still dancing now, as I write this.
Perhaps they’ll go on dancing forever.
(image via Pixabay)
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