On Sunday, August 27, 800 to 1000 people of faith from a variety of traditions in the Bay Area gathered in response to a planned rally by right-wing groups in downtown Berkeley.
After several weeks of planning by many different organizers, numerous meetings and email chains the day arrived. The Sanctuary at First Congregational Church of Berkeley began to fill with activists who were bringing a message of racial equality and love. After songs, prayers and instructions, the group amassed outside and walked together through Berkeley streets to the site of the planned demonstration. An special choir was formed called the “Choral Majority” and they added their voices to the throng.
Although few of the original demonstrators seemed to be on hand at the Berkeley Civic Center Park when the marchers arrived there, the area was filled with those who were protesting the right-wing rally.
Faith leaders spoke from a flat-bed truck about the need to counter messages of exclusion and violence—especially toward those who are marginalized in our country—with words and actions to denounce white supremacy.
News reports played up clashes between demonstrators from both sides, but the scene was predominantly peaceful. Much of the progressive response on Sunday was spurred by the demonstrations and violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA. Some right-wing groups have strategically chosen to stage rallies in progressive locations in order to create controversy. A similar rally in San Francisco planned for the previous day was called off in the face of mounting counter-demonstrations.
In planning for the counterdemonstration, lively debates arose about strategy, including whether the demonstrations should be directly confronted or addressed more indirectly to avoid drawing additional publicity to white supremacist groups and ideology. A range of opinions about the tactics and ideology of groups often described as “antifa” were also expressed. A group of black-clad and masked protesters were present at the Park and the incidents of confrontation were ascribed to them.
Some community members chose to stay in the First Church Sanctuary to sing and pray while the demonstrations were going on. Church members also provided hospitality including food, a place to leave belongings, and emotional support.
The faith-based rally was one of several organized in response to the right-wing demonstrations at various times and locations over the weekend.