Battle for Berkeley event dissolves into conflict

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At the Battle for Berkeley event Thursday night, a young woman stood up and asked speaker Sunsara Taylor, a radical leftist advocate and self-described communist, to acknowledge common ground she had come to with an opponent.

“I actually… I hate to say it but I don’t think that was a point of common ground,” Taylor countered as the packed classroom erupted in jeers and shouts.

The event, held in the Hearst Field Annex, featured Taylor leading a contentious debate to “drive fascists off campus,” according to a flier. The audience was composed of people from all parts of the political spectrum, most of whom were many years older than the typical undergraduate.

Organized in part by Reiko Redmonde, manager of Revolution Books, the event began with a short speech by Taylor followed by a lengthy Q&A session.

“(The event) is necessary because of the election and a fascist in power. … This is an actual fascist regime, and they are moving very quickly on many different fronts,” Redmonde said.

During her speech, Taylor took aim at Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Milo Yiannopoulos and their supporters. According to Taylor, “it is not only right but righteous” to shut down speakers like Coulter and Yiannopoulos, as they are the real enemies of free speech.

“That includes shouting people down, and shutting people down when they are given the platform to spread this poison,” Taylor said.

Caiden Nason, president of Cal Berkeley Democrats, said the club was not involved with the event. Cal Dem members are tired of seeing outside agitators trying to make Berkeley a “focal point” of political unrest, according to Nason.

He pointed to the Berkeley College Republicans’ invitations to provocative right-wing speakers as initiating the unrest, but said the response by radical leftist groups will cause the climate to spiral. Nason also said the Cal Dems are more liberal than many Democrats, but still a far cry from those who organized the event.

“Everyone can agree we all oppose fascism. Cal Dems want to oppose neo-fascists … (but you’re) not going to find us out there breaking windows,” Nason said. “We believe that while the system is extremely broken, it is still good to have a system, and we want to do what we can to make it a better system.”

The Berkeley College Republicans could not be reached for comment.

The environment of the meeting became more hostile once the floor was opened to questions. At two points in the meeting, organizers had to block a pathway to the speaker as audience members moved towards the stage.

A woman wearing a “No to Fascism” shirt approached a man recording the audience with his phone and attempted to grab it out of his hands. A group of audience members quickly surrounded the two until the altercation eventually dissolved.

One female audience member shouted towards the front that Taylor was not from the community and should therefore not be speaking. The woman was unsuccessfully asked to leave the meeting several times.

Troy Worden, the president of Berkeley College Republicans, asked Taylor to condemn the acts of violence that have been carried out against the organization for the past six months. Taylor responded by asking if he would condemn various military acts carried out by the U.S. government.

“I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of what you’re asking for. I find it absurd,” Taylor said.

She continued by saying she didn’t know of any violence that has been carried out against the group, causing her to be shouted down by audience members claiming she was “out of touch with reality.”

Following a particularly tense moment, Taylor asked the audience to say “I’m with you” if they were with her. The request was met with mixed responses.

Joe Temes, a campus freshman, said he was attending the debate because he felt the stage often was not opened for those with more extreme positions to have a dialogue.

“I don’t think that the people who talked the most in the audience were people who were most interested in actually having dialogue,” Temes said.

The event ended somewhat abruptly after several questions broke into shouting matches.

Community member Taylor Blevons, who attended the meeting, said she believes that when there is violence, true discussion can no longer take place.

“I am leaving far more discouraged than I came in,” Blevons said.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.

“A previous version of this article misquoted Cal Dems President Caiden Nason as saying “… (but you’re) going to find us out there breaking windows.” In fact, Nason said “… (but you’re) not going to find us out there breaking windows.”