Two far-right rallies planned in San Francisco and Berkeley this weekend have spawned large counterprotests across the Bay Area. Even though city leaders have asked the public to stay away, many people are saying they feel the need to stand up against such gatherings.
The far-right Patriot Prayer is holding a rally at Crissy Field on Saturday, and a "No to Marxism in America" rally is planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley on Sunday. Here are the stories of a few counterdemonstrators and why they are going out to protest.
Sunday Service Protesting
The Rev. Mike McBride is the pastor of The Way, a church on University Avenue in Berkeley that is not far from Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where a far-right rally is planned for Sunday.
He's also the director of urban strategies of the faith-based PICO National Network and part of a nationwide coalition of clergy who have produced a “tool kit” for those who want to engage in #righteousresistance when white nationalist rallies come to their cities.
“We need to train our folks on how to publicly resist evil,” McBride said. “We do not ignore evil and hope it goes away. We publicly confront evil and overcome it with good.”
Even though city leaders are asking residents to stay away, McBride plans to lead his congregation in standing up against the far-right rally.
“We’re going to go to church and be filled with the Holy Ghost,” McBride said. “Then we’re going to take that power, walk down the street and cast the devil out of our city.”
McBride said many black people who migrated to the Bay Area during the 1940s, '50s and '60s were fleeing the racial terror of the Ku Klux Klan and police departments in the southern United States.
“I will not be the clergy leader who pastors 60-, 70-, 80-year-old black folks who fled the South from this racial terror ... and tells them to stay at home while this terror descends upon our cities," McBride said.
Nanny Standing Up for Ethnic Diversity
Ana Perez moved from Seattle to the Bay Area 14 years ago in part because of the region’s racial and ethnic diversity.
“It felt so good to start speaking Spanish again here,” said Perez, who is originally from Peru. “I wanted more opportunities to be part of a larger Latino community.”
Now Perez lives and works in San Francisco’s Mission District as a nanny and Spanish-language tutor at after-school programs. She is a vocal critic of the area’s gentrification and skyrocketing housing prices, but this weekend she’ll be directing her energy to oppose the rallies that are expected to attract white nationalists at Crissy Field and in Berkeley.
“It’s very important to show them that we are united as immigrants, as women to fight for our human rights,” said Perez, 36, who will be heading on Saturday to a counterprotest at Civic Center Plaza. “We have to continue this fight. It’s our lives that are at stake.”
A Holocaust Survivor Protests at Age 95
Ben Stern is a 95-year-old survivor of the Holocaust. He lived through two ghettos and nine concentration camps. He says it’s painful to watch videos from Charlottesville of white supremacists shouting anti-Semitic slogans.
"It only reminds me of the rise of Nazism in Germany in the '20s and '30s,” Stern said. "People ignored the power of that rise until it was too late.”
On Sunday, Stern plans to march in Berkeley with his daughter.
“I plan to stand up and be seen,” Stern said. “We're standing united against oppression, against racism in any shape or form."
After World War II, Stern came to the United States as a refugee. In 1978, he helped lead the resistance to a planned neo-Nazi march through his adopted hometown of Skokie, Illinois.
Stern says that while hate groups make up a small part of the population, they’ve been encouraged by President Trump’s election and by his public statements.
“Our president has been going back and forth, unsteady, not speaking out strongly against the degrading of the American total dedication to freedom," Stern says. Today’s hate groups have forgotten the price the country paid to defeat fascism in Europe, he said.
"They're a small number,” Stern said, "but if people will not express opposition to their agenda, we will have to pay a dear price after.”
On Sunday, Stern wants to stay far from any violent confrontation. He’s sprightly for his age, but he still can’t run like he used to. Even if the rally is an exhausting experience, Stern says it will be worth it.
"I'm not concerned about my health,” Stern said. The harder part will be "to accept why I'm there — to defend the honor of my loved ones who perished by the hands of the Nazis."
Stern had nine siblings, and all but one died in the Holocaust.
“They'll be marching in front of me, in my mind."
Vietnam Vet: 'This is the Time to Step Up'
William Bruce parked his car in a small lot one recent morning in the Presidio, with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. Then he walked slowly, using a cane, to the apartment complex for military veterans he’s called home for 14 years.
“This is a beautiful place,” said Bruce, 69. “I met my wife here, but she passed away.”
As Bruce opened the door to the lobby, he found three of his neighbors talking critically about the Patriot Prayer “Freedom Rally” scheduled for this weekend at nearby Crissy Field. Most of the veterans living here object to the group’s history of attracting white nationalists to past events, Bruce said.
“If you really care about this country you don’t separate by color,” said Bruce, a San Francisco native, “because when you are out there wounded on a war field, all you care for is a fellow American to help you.”
Bruce firmly plans to attend a counterprotest at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza this weekend.
“I need to be there for peace and to represent all veterans,” said Bruce, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than a decade. “This is the time to step up and show what team you are on. This is not the time to stay in the bleachers. It’s a very important game for the future of this country.”