When asked how he would describe Wednesday evening's protest against conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley, Oakland resident Michael Mendoza chose “volatile” and “togetherness.”
The contradiction of these words was a sort of hamartia, or fatal flaw, for the demonstrators last night: UCB is a campus famed for its free-speech value, yet students and residents denied an individual that very right.
Hundreds of protesters converged on the campus just after 5 p.m. and, within an hour, shut down Yiannopoulos' appearance. Some students sparked an impromptu dance party on Sproul Plaza, with people shouting out lyrics of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” Others sparked fires and a sort of riot.
A small crew of protesters even destroyed campus property, shattering glass windows at the MLK Student Union and ransacking banks and a Starbucks just off of campus.
Later in the evening, a live band led the protesters down Telegraph Avenue, which felt more like a tailgate than a protest.
It was clear from early on that the action was not simply about Yiannopoulos, but also President Trump and the so-called Alt Right movement which promotes white nationalism and patriarchy. And many of those gathered at Sproul were angry at their school for even flirting with the notion of a Yiannopoulos speaking engagement.
And so, for many, UC Berkeley had to burn — in the most literal sense, including a tree on Sproul Plaza that was lit on fire.
Some students were surprised by the aggressive demonstrating. “This protest did not go the way I thought it would go,” said a Berkeley student, Maya, who did not give her last name.
The protest was originally intended as a dance-party resistance, a la the demonstration outside Vice President Mike Pence’s home on January 18. And, while people did dance, sing, and chant, this sense of togetherness was ultimately overshadowed by by fires and vandalism.
After the demonstration, President Donald Trump threatened UC Berkeley's federal funding.
To which Congresswoman Barbara Lee replied: