I was walking down College Avenue with my sister Lisa, her girlfriend Anita, my wife Alex, and our little boy. We had just eaten at Shen Hua and the ladies wanted to enhance their post-dinner stroll with a little coffee.
As we crossed Ashby and headed toward the coffeehouse, I spied a young woman approaching us with a clipboard and stack of political fliers. We successfully avoided eye contact, so she turned her attention to a couple walking in the opposite direction — though not before shouting at us, “Get with the Military … the Military of Ideas!” Nice.
I was intrigued, so while the ladies stood in line for lattes, the boy and I strolled over to her literature-strewn table. I realized that she wasn’t alone; there were three more on adjacent corners of the intersection. All of them were extremely aggressive, following people up and down the street belligerently and verbally accosting them. It was obvious the locals were not happy about their presence, but the Berkeley liberals were too passive-aggressive to confront them. They’d rather call the police for a “quality of life” issue, not for being assholes.
A banner on their table identified them as the LaRouche Youth Movement, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, the old conspiracy theorist who was prone to running for president. I knew nothing of his real politics and solely judged him by the actions of his “good street soldiers.” I approached with caution.
“Military of Ideas” was sitting at the table, taking a break from the action. Feeling feisty, I put the stroller in park, pulled down the canopy to block the boy’s view — just in case things got nasty — and smiled, hoping to elicit another catchy slogan. Thinking she had a live one, she blurted out in a pissy voice, “What are you doing to stop the war?” Prepared for a question like this, I responded in an affected voice, “Well, what are you doing to stop the war?” I could’ve easily said, “I know you are but what am I?” “Voting for LaRouche!” she sassed back. Without missing a beat in this verbal dance, I responded, “Voting is stupid.” My old anarchist days were resurfacing and I was ready for a fight. Circle the “A” motherfuckers, I’m back!
This response usually elicits looks of astonishment and bewilderment, like viewing Bigfoot running down Telegraph. “You don’t vote?” she asked, more perplexed than angry. “No, do you?” acting like I was the one that should be astonished. Her astonishment bubbled to anger and she unleased a diatribe of hate. Not wanting to subject the boy to this, I grabbed the stroller and turned away. But not before getting in one last jab: “Voting is for pussies. Go back to Pleasanton!” In cases like this, it’s best to attack their so-called upbringing. Pretty much “pussy” and “Go back to Pleasanton” covers every white person’s breaking point: “Pussy,” the forbidden word, digs deep to their Wellesley/Smith/Overland experience and, regardless if they’re from the suburbs or not, “Go back to Pleasanton” implies privilege and denies them the oppressed credentials they so desperately crave. It’s a guaranteed shit-stirrer.
Returning to the cafe, I found my sister and wife out front enjoying the evening, oblivious to the verbal sass match that had just ensued. We wanted to continue our leisurely stroll, but of course to get back to the car, we had to once again cross Ashby, where two new LaRouche youths were waiting for us in front of Wells Fargo. Feeling a little paranoid that Military of Ideas had tipped them off that an enemy of the voting revolution was heading their way, I gave Alex the stroller and lagged behind, running through my witty comebacks and clenching my fists, just in case.
As we approached, they launched into their spiel. I tried to ignore them, but they were being too rude and aggressive to let them get away with such behavior. I turned around and demanded, “Are you RCP [Revolutionary Communist Party]? With your catchy slogans and fancy paper, somebody must be funding you.”
A little perplexed by the RCP comment, and definitely appalled that I would question who was paying for their literature, he continued talking about the war, ignoring my question, or possibly not understanding it.
I continued, “What are you peddling and what do you want from me?”
He said he was voting for Lyndon LaRouche and also asked me what I was doing about the war. At that moment I hated these kids, and while it wasn’t worth getting angry, I wanted a little piece of this guy.
As I reluctantly walked away, listening to my good senses, he said, “Your silence is culpable for the war!!”
I whipped around and quickly walked back, staring directly into his eyes.
“What the fuck did you say?”
He shrank back, but threw out a defiant, “Well … what are you doing against the war?”
I said, “How dare you assume?? You don’t know me.” As much as I hate bringing out the trump card, I continued, “Fuck you, I’ve worked the last twelve years in nonprofit, feeding people with HIV. And you? You’re just a privileged white boy on a trust fund attending Berkeley. Trust me, I know you’re driving back home in your mom’s diesel Mercedes to the Berkeley Hills, after being rude and annoying the fuck out of everybody on this street. Why don’t you peddle this shit at 98th and International, you fuckin’ douche bag?”
I was lost in myself. It was like looking at me twenty years earlier. He was dogmatic, righteous, and running as far away from his homogeneous upbringing. I pushed every button that was sensitive to his being; called him every term he thought he was farthest from. It was so easy to attack him and I loved doing it.
Finally, he broke down and said, “What are you gonna do, hit me?”
Still very worked up, I said, “No, but I’m gonna throw you into traffic, you fucking idiot.”
A woman at an ATM chimed in, “Fuck you, get out of here!” referring to the LaRouche kid. She looked at me and said, “Fuck you, too.” I laughed. Her candor defused the situation.
I left and returned to my family. Alex looked scared and annoyed. As with all interactions that may lead to violence, I felt like shit afterwards. I didn’t feel vindicated, I felt … stupid.
My sister looked at me, laughing. “Little brother, you looked like you were going to beat the shit out of that kid.”
“No, I was just going to throw him into traffic,” I said.
Lisa was about to respond, but I stopped her. I knew she was going to make the correlation between me as a young man and this kid.
“Fuck off, Lisa. I know what you’re thinking.” Lisa and I laughed. Alex and Anita exchanged a glance, questioning their involvement with our family, and rightly so.