Born in 1970, UC Berkeley graduate Yvette Felarca is a social studies teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California, which is part of the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) where she has been employed since 2006. Felarca has also served on the Berkeley Federation of Teachers' executive board. She is best known as a national organizer for By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a self-described “militant anti-facist group.” Moreover, Felarca has been an activist in the Occupy Wall Street movement and a participant in Black Lives Matter-connected protests in California.
Felarca is a passionate opponent of charter schools. In 2009, for instance, she repeatedly recruited students to participate in protests against the establishment of one particular charter school that BUSD was considering – even after the union had formally directed her not to involve students in her political activities, and not to pursue those activities during work hours. In a 2012 speech to fellow union members, Felarca claimed that “public education is under an insidious and full-scale attack” from people wishing to implement “a free-market, privatized model” of education. “We are at war” with “charter school promoters,” she declared.
In 2011, the principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School denied Felarca's request for permission to take her after-school club on an all-day field trip to UC Berkeley for activities opposing Proposition 209, a ballot initiative that sought to ban public-sector affirmative action in California. BUSD subsequently reprimanded Felarca for pursuing this field trip because “it was an opportunity for you to indoctrinate students and use them to support your own personal political agenda,” even though “it took them away from necessary instruction” and “violated the directives you had been given in 2009.”
In 2013, BUSD docked Felarca's pay because she had repeatedly violated district rules by using leave time to attend immigrant-rights marches in Washington, DC. But Felarca continued to flout those rules. When BUSD scheduled a private meeting to discuss this matter with Felarca, more than ten young people assembled outside the District office, chanting and carrying signs denouncing “teacher harassment.”
After that meeting, Felarca posted a Facebook message thanking the picketers for their support, and adding: “I think the Administration is going to back down on the discipline, but they still plan to dock me another day’s pay for attending the Andy Lopez march. We’re gaining ground but the fight continues. Si se puede!” The Facebook post also urged supporters to sign a petition characterizing Felarca as a heroic role model who should be permitted to use personal leave time for whatever purposes she wished. At a later date, BUSD issued a written statement telling Felarca:
“It is apparent from your Facebook posting that you enjoy defying the administration and taking an adversarial position against the administration of your employer. This is blatant insubordination and will not be tolerated.… Your Facebook posting and the petition also make clear that you are intentionally providing the readers with biased, slanted information.... The verbiage of your post and petition which is embarrassingly narcissistic makes it clear that you were trying to provide readers only with information that would support you, not the actual facts.... [I]t was evident that you and your [BAMN] representatives were actively trying to brainwash and manipulate these young people to serve your own selfish interests in not being held accountable to the same rules that apply to everyone else. As a teacher, your conduct was particularly reprehensible.”
In December 2014, Felarca participated in large Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Berkeley and Oakland during normal work hours, thereby violating BUSD rules.
Defending the use of “militant” political demonstrations – i.e., riots – that commonly result in property destruction, Felarca told the New York Times in December 2014: “Riots are the voice of the unheard.” “You can never replace the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner,” she added in a reference to two black men who had died in highly publicized altercations with police officers earlier that year, “but you can always replace broken windows.”
In October 2015, Felarca sought permission to take students to a San Francisco immigration court to observe the hearing of a woman who was seeking asylum in the U.S. In making her request, Felarca failed to inform her School District that her activist organization, BAMN, was involved in advocacy work for that particular case. The District ultimately denied Felarca's request, but Felarca attended the asylum hearing anyway. Moreover, she was interviewed on television during the event.
On June 26, 2016, Felarca and BAMN led some 400 protesters in a series of pre-planned attacks against a group of approximately 30 members of the white-supremacist Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP) who were scheduled to hold a rally on the steps of the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento. The rally never took place, however, because Felarca and her comrades violently assaulted them with their fists as well as clubs, rocks, and pepper spray. By the time the mayhem was over, numerous people had been injured, including ten who had to be hospitalized, some with stab wounds. Felarca, at one point, shoved a TWP member and repeatedly shouted “Get the f**k off our streets!” Within a few moments, several of Felarca's male accomplices tackled that individual and viciously beat him.
On the premise that the “racist demagoguery” of newly elected President Donald Trump “gives Nazis a green light” and should not be protected by the First Amendment, Felarca, said in the aftermath of the attacks in Sacramento: “The goal today was to shut down the Nazis' recruitment rally [and] … [w]e succeeded in doing that.” The “Nazi scum,” she added, were “not able to hold any kind of demonstration … because of the militant, integrated direct action of the people who came out” and exercised their “right to self-defense.”
On June 30, 2016, BUSD sent a notification letter charging her with “immoral conduct, evident unfitness for service, persistent violation of or refusal to obey school laws, dishonesty, unprofessional conduct, and unsatisfactory performance.” On September 21, 2016, the School District placed Felarca on involuntary paid leave because of her actions in Sacramento as well as her previous insubordination.
Felarca, however, alleged that her suspension was largely an effort to deprive her of her free-speech rights. In a ten-page grievance letter dated September 14, 2016, she said the District’s “political witch-hunt” would “send a message to the Latina/o, Asian, Arab and other immigrant students and to black, Muslim and other minority students and the many anti-racist white students I reach every day, that the teachers who actively defend their rights and interests and tell the plain truth about racism and the new Jim Crow are not welcome and will be driven out of BUSD.”
On October 26, 2016, Felarca filed a civil-rights lawsuit against BUSD, charging that the District's actions against her had caused her to suffer “panic attacks, repressed appetite, weight loss, dizziness, and increased emotional distress.”
On November 2, 2016, Felarca's suspension was lifted and she returned to the classroom. On November 1, she posted on her Facebook page: “I’m back to work tomorrow! Thank you, everyone and congratulations to all — this victory belongs to all of us!”
In February 2017 at UC Berkeley, Felarca and many of her BAMN comrades staged a loud, violent riot that forced the popular gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos to cancel a speech which he was scheduled to deliver on campus. Noting that Yiannopoulos was affiliated with conservative author and activist David Horowitz, Felarca described the latter as a “Holocaust denier.” In reality, Horowitz for decades has been a staunch defender of Israel and the Jewish people, and has written and spoken extensively about the horrors of the Holocaust.
“This is not about free speech,” Felarca said of Yiannopoulos’s speaking tour. “These are not people who are interested in any genuine debate. They hide behind that hypocritically to try to shut up and put in our places women or Muslims or minorities or oppressed groups. But what they are really trying to do is they’re trying to assert their power, threaten us, intimidate us, rape us, kill us.... I promise you, if we work together and we stay united, we can … shut this fu**er [Yiannopoulos] down, we can get rid of Donald Trump.”
All told, more than 1,500 protesters gathered at Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus, chanting and holding placards that read: “No safe space for racists” and “This is war.” Some of the demonstrators hurled commercial-grade fireworks and rocks at police; threw Molotov cocktails that ignited fires; smashed windows of the student union center where Yiannopoulos had been slated to speak; tore down metal barriers; set fires near the campus bookstore; and damaged the construction site where a new dorm was being built. “As police dispersed the crowd from campus,” said one news report, “a remaining group of protesters moved into downtown Berkeley and smashed windows at several local banks.” By the time the mayhem was over, the rioters had caused at least $100,000 worth of property damage on the grounds of UC Berkeley, plus another $400,000 to $500,000 in damage off campus.
In a television interview conducted after the Berkeley riot, Felarca described Yiannopoulos as a “fascist,” “an acolyte of Donald Trump,” and a “white supremacist” who “was on the UC Berkeley campus to try to recruit more fascists and to wage attacks on Muslim students, immigrant students, women and trans students.” Moreover, Felarca warned that if Yiannopoulos were to ever again schedule a speech at Berkeley, she and her allies would “make clear to him, directly to his face, that he is not welcome and we will shut him down by any means necessary!” When asked whether a nonviolent form of protest might have been preferable to what actually had occurred, Felarca replied: “You know, I think that the left has been far too timid for way too long, and it’s why we’d even gotten in this position, where we even have someone like Donald Trump leading a fascist movement as the President of the United States. We need to make sure that we have more mass protests, more militant protests that are mass and militant.” She further declared that “we have an obligation” to use any and all measures, including violence, against “the right wing and the fascists in this country,” and that the chaos at Berkeley “should be the model for how the movement needs to take things now in the future.” Acknowledging that her “movement” to thwart the Trump agenda was “not spontaneous” in any way, Felarca said: “This is about organizing and fighting by any means necessary.”
The entire Berkeley affair could have been avoided, Felarca claimed, if only the university's chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, had heeded the advice of the “hundreds of professors who demanded” that Yiannopoulos's appearance be called off “for safety reasons.” She reasoned that Dirks was “responsible for anything that happened,” since “he had a chance to cancel the event.” Felarca then shrugged off the significance of the property damage that had occurred as a result of the riots: “A few broken windows is nothing compared to the lives that are at stake. And if that’s what it takes in order to make sure that more people don’t get targeted—if that’s what it takes to make sure that Milo Yiannopoulos or another white supremacist is not welcome or allowed to come to UC Berkeley and attack our community, then good. Let’s make sure then that doesn’t happen in the future.”
On July 18, 2017, Felarca was arrested for “assault by means of force likely to inflict great bodily injury,” a felony, and for participating in a riot and inciting a riot, both misdemeanors. All of these charges were related to her role in the June 26, 2016 BAMN protest on the grounds of the California State Capitol in Sacramento.
On September 26, 2017, Felarca became enraged when Joey Gibson, the leader of a conservative group called Patriot Prayer, led a demonstration at UC Berkeley to bring attention to the fact that student organizers on campus had decided to cancel a planned “Free Speech Week” that would have featured an appearance by gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulous. Felarca fought with some of the conservatives inside a so-called “empathy tent,” whose purpose was to provide protesters with a calm place where they could escape chaos and regain their composure if necessary. Felarca was one of four people arrested for her participation in the violence. She was charged with battery and resisting arrest.