1 – Defend, revive People’s Park

By P. Wingnut

People’s Park in Berkeley is still liberated territory — despite the University of California sending in 100 police for a sneak attack in the middle of the night on August 3 to steal it from us. Workers were up all night building a strong, 8 foot tall “unclimbable” fence that was spiked into the concrete so UC could start building a 12 story, $312 million dorm at the 2.8 acre site the next morning. Around 9 am, Expert Tree Service arrived and began cutting 47 trees.

But the UC’s efforts were always doomed. There’s a spell protecting the Park — a curse against the University cast by generations of people who’ve met and woven community there that extends outwards and continues through our lives. Almost everyone I’ve met over the last 35 years somehow relates to the community surrounding People’s Park.

The ugliness and violence of the UC’s predawn raid and attempted clearcut was met with determined, dignified people power. When we heard the roar of chainsaws and the thud of tree trunks hitting the ground, the fence was torn down — and the police and workers fled. They left millions of dollars of fencing and construction equipment — which was promptly disabled and now sits on the lawn near the free speech stage decorated like a post apocalyptic sculpture. 

I have to confess that I missed the physical defense of People’s Park on August 3. I got the bulldozer alert on my phone when I woke up at 7 am, looked on-line and saw photos of police and a fence … but I didn’t jump on my bike. I’d dropped by a rave in the Park the previous Saturday night sort of to say my goodbyes — I just couldn’t see how the Park could survive the momentum and city/corporate coalition that the university had built on their path towards development. 

I had a pre-existing plan to take LSD with my girlfriend August 3 that I’d already had to cancel twice — when I got covid and when the Supreme Court overturned Roe…. So I said “fuck it — let’s take the acid”. We discussed set and setting, and my set was “transformation.” I remarked that maybe us taking acid could be like the butterfly effect where a seemingly minor act triggers a hurricane across the world. I was thinking about climate change, inequality and my own personal struggles to work less and live more freely…. 

The University’s attack has ended up invigorating and expanding the numbers of Park defenders so that any future UC attack will be met with far greater resistance. Before August 3, a lot of Park activists (perhaps secretly) had a creeping suspicion that this time, the UC might finally get their way. I was feeling like that too. The City and the University have spent years trying to isolate and marginalize the Park by framing it as an outdated vestige of the 1960s or just another homeless encampment that should be “cleaned up” to make way for progress. Some of us felt tired and felt there were more pressing issues demanding our time. The numbers of participants at events dwindled…

The acid was amazing with strong visuals — probably because a comrade gave it out for free last time we were making Slingshot. We hiked up to the redwoods above campus and after we peaked, I noticed the constant sound of helicopters circling above. So I turned on my phone and wondered if I was still hallucinating because … the fence was down! We were still tripping pretty hard but I said “we gotta go to the Park to see what’s going on” and when we got there, it was filled with people — the fence had been smashed. 

Since the foiled police raid, there’s daily events and plenty of new folks of all ages and backgrounds being drawn to the thriving energy at the Park. A recent week’s schedule featured Garden Tours, Nonviolent Direct Action prep/training, a Spokescouncil meeting, Fire Mitigation Hügelkultur gardening, Open Air Temple — even an art opening. There’s an info table with literature and Food Not Bombs still serves 5 days a week.  While most of the trees were cut down, a few remain. The free speech stage, basketball court, bathroom, and some other structures remain. With so much less shade, a big priority has been re-planting and re-greening so there’s plenty to do — everyone gets a blister. 

The only way to protect the Park long-term is to make it a wonderful Park full of life and beauty — not just a tattered nostalgia trip. If it’s getting cold in your part of the country, now might be a good time to head west to Berkeley where it’s sunny almost all year and it never freezes. 

The Park right after a police raid wasn’t a great place to be on acid, so we biked down to the Marina to watch the sunset and I read out loud what I’d written in the last issue of Slingshot — it seemed right on: “Slingshot does not know and therefore cannot disclose the specifics but People’s Park is magic — it is not governed by the standard laws of physics or social norms. So don’t believe the hype: There will be a mass mobilization to defend the Park the minute the UC moves to install a fence. Or maybe dragons will emerge from volcanos — who the fuck knows but the UC should be careful stirring up the demons that inhabit the Park.”

In my acid haze, I realized how profoundly the Park proved that no matter how hopeless things look, anything is possible. Unexpected or unexplainable things can happen so long as you try. We need this awareness not only about People’s Park, but about everything in the world that horrifies and frightens us — plastics in the oceans, hatred, racism, the rich getting richer, fascism rising, soulless corporations ruining everything. 

The future of People’s Park is up for grabs. The University claims they intend to start construction as soon as a court injunction is lifted in November — maybe by the time you read this. But UC is unlikely to attack until its 40,000 students are safely out of town — even if only 40 percent of them support the Park, it’s too risky. Late December or early January in the middle of the night is when they’ll raid. 

We’ll always have the upper hand at the Park because it’s in our blood — it’s about freedom, an absurdly diverse counter-community of freaks and misfits, art, music, and the land.  Love is more powerful than brutality and money. The police officers and UC employees don’t really care what happens — its just more real estate, more money, more numbers in a computer to them. The contractors have plenty of job sites where they won’t be constantly yelled at — where it won’t take a 24 -hour a day occupying army of police to protect a quarter mile of fence. 

The butterfly effect can work. So just like I had to play my part by tripping and missing the protest, defending People’s Park and other seemingly doomed free spaces is crucial towards defending the earth, defeating those in power, and building a world worth living in. See you at the Park. 

Text SAVETHEPARK to 74121 to join the bulldozer alarm text alert. For more info check peoplespark.org for events.