(CNN)– Berkeley, the famously liberal college town in California, has taken aim at Marine recruiters, saying they are “not welcome in our city.”
Republican lawmakers in Washington fired back this week, threatening to take back more than $2 million of federal funding to the city as well as money designated for the University of California-Berkeley, the campus that became a haven of protests during the Vietnam War.
The battle erupted after the Berkeley City Council approved a measure last week urging the Marine recruiters to leave their downtown office.
“If recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders,” the item says. It goes on to say the council applauds residents and organizations that “volunteer to impede, passively or actively, by nonviolent means, the work of any military recruiting office located in the City of Berkley.
Outside the Shattuck Avenue recruiting station earlier this week, a handful of protesters with the anti-war group Code Pink camped out, strumming a guitar as they sang anti-war songs and held signs against the Iraq war. “Time to end the war, time to end the war, time to end the war right now,” they sang to the beat of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” One giant sign said, “No Military Predators in Our Town.” Another message on a pink placard read, “Join the Marines. Travel to Exotic Lands. Meet Exciting and Unusual People — And Kill Them.”
Zanne Joi peered out from under her straw hat. “This Marine recruiting station is trying to recruit our youth to go to Iraq to kill and be killed. And we are against that,” said Joi, a member of Code Pink Women for Peace. Protester Sharon Adams added: “This recruiting station recruits people to go fight and then once they fight and they serve their country, our country doesn’t take care of them. That’s a shame.”
Forrest Smith, who described himself as a veteran of U.S. Special Forces, said his son recently returned from a tour in Iraq and his daughter served in Afghanistan.”My position on this is the Marines are the best thing we have,” said Smith, decked out in Army fatigues. He blasted the City Council for its action. “It’s clearly an abuse of power.”A group of young students who strolled down the sidewalk shared that sentiment. They derided one of the protesters who argued the United States was involved in an illegal war in Iraq. “That’s our national security, and you’re here protesting the Marines.” Gunnery Sgt. Pauline Franklin, a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, told CNN there is “no plan for that office to move.” She said recruiters are there to “provide information to qualified men and women who are looking for opportunities that they may benefit from by serving in the military.”
“The Marine Corps is here to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, which does guarantee the freedom of speech,” Franklin said. “In terms of the situation in Berkeley, the City Council and the protesters are exercising their right to do so.” In Washington, a group of Republican lawmakers have introduced the Semper Fi Act of 2008 — named after the Marine motto — to rescind more than $2 million of funds for Berkeley and transfer it to the Marine Corps. “Like most Americans, I really get disturbed when taxpayer money goes to institutions which proceed to take votes, make policy or make statements that really denigrate the military,” said Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, a co-sponsor of the bill. He told CNN he believes the bill will pass. “I think it’s going to have significant support.” The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, said in a written statement, “Berkeley needs to learn that their actions have consequences.”
Berkeley’s declaration, which was introduced by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, accuses the United States of having a history of “launching illegal, immoral and unprovoked wars of aggression and the Bush administration launched the most recent of those wars in Iraq and is threatening the possibility of war in Iran.” It adds, “Military recruiters are salespeople known to lie to and seduce minors and young adults into contracting themselves into military service with false promises regarding jobs, job training, education and other benefits.” Out on Shattuck Avenue, it appears the protesters have no plans to leave anytime soon. “We are the civilian population; we control the military,” Adams said. “We the people have to take back our control of the military.”
CNN’s Jim Castel and Peter Ornstein contributed to this story from Berkeley, and CNN’s Dick Uliano contributed from Washington.