Amelia Fineberg, ’16, attended the protests against conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley on the night of Feb. 1.
“I showed up at around 4:30 (p.m.) when just a few people were gathering, and I was planning to leave at 6 (p.m.), before the more intense stuff happened, because I had an art class from 6-9.
“I was with my roommate, and it was pretty energetic. People were chanting and holding signs but overall being peaceful – no property damage, complying with police orders to move here or there, etc.
“I saw Anthony (Swaminathan, ’16,) probably around 5 (p.m.) or so because he was coming back from tutoring and had to pass by Upper Sproul, where everything was happening. It was still probably a couple dozen people at that point.
“Over the next hour people started showing up in much larger numbers. I’m not very good at judging crowd sizes, but I heard there were around 1500 people who attended. So we were chanting things like ‘No Milo, no Trump, no fascist U.S.A.’ and ‘No hate, no fear; immigrants are welcome here’ and the classic ‘Something something under attack; what do we do? Stand up, fight back!’ You know, classic protest chants. Similar ones were used at the Women’s March in (Sacramento), which I also attended. But it was peaceful.
“At 5:55 I went to my art class, which was in the Berkeley Art Studio on lower Sproul, near where the protests were taking place, but not in the thick of things. About five minutes into the class, after only like three people and the instructor have shown up, the fire alarms go off, and we evacuate to Dwinelle (a little further up past Sather Gate), and art class is cancelled. So I’m like, ‘What’s going on? What is burning?’ It turns out that people are shooting fireworks at (the Martin Luther King Student Union Building), where the event is being hosted.
“I go back to find my roommate, who’s standing with (about) eight other people in front of a door of the Student Union, mentally and physically preparing themselves to be tear-gassed – tying scarves in front of their faces, etc. I think someone handed out a couple plastic baggies with handkerchiefs soaked in water and vinegar, which is supposed to protect you a bit. (I’m worried), but I’m not (going to) bail on my roommate. This is after the police had already ordered us to disperse, declared the assembly unlawful and given us ten minutes to clear out before they would start using batons, tear gas, etc.
“We’re standing there, and someone comes by and tells us that, breaking news, the event has been cancelled. At first we thought (Yiannopoulos) was still in the building, but a little later we found out he had already been evacuated. So my roommate and I were like ‘Okay, maybe we should go now.’
“So we went back up to Upper Sproul, and there was a column of flame. It was seriously impressive. My first reaction was ‘What the *&%$ are they fueling it with to make it burn like that?!’ We were a safe distance away, so we watched that for a bit. I thought it was a tree on fire at first, but that didn’t explain how aggressively it was burning. We found out later that it was a gas-powered light post, which makes a lot more sense.
“We left pretty soon after that and went up to the Foothill Dining Hall (Foothill being our residence hall) for dinner, probably around 6:30-7 .
“We found out later that the people who were shooting fireworks and whatnot were an external group known as the ‘black bloc.’ There were around 150 of them, dressed in black with masks on, and they’re the ones who ultimately turned a peaceful protest into something pretty violent. Apparently they were also doing things like throwing rocks and bricks at the police and damaging assorted property on their way to campus. So they ended up kind of interfering with everyone else’s expression of freedom of speech and assembly by making the assembly unlawful. Anyway, they weren’t even part of UC Berkeley, so I’m a little salty about that too.
“Also, they damaged the Student Union (building), and they’re trying to claim that they’re ‘targeting a place of white supremacy,’ but aside from the actual event of that night, the Student Union is a place where students go to hang out, and it’s where the Multicultural Community Center and things like that are hosted. Furthermore, they might argue that the administration will have to pay for the damage, but I have little doubt that the costs will be passed on to students somehow.