Class War on Telegraph Avenue?

Reclaim the sidewalks

Since the onslaught of El Nino in February, the rulers and administrators of Berkeley have been launching a little El Nino of their own on Telegraph Avenue to discourage the presence of the homeless, punks, people without money, and anyone else who stands in the way of the Avenue turning upscale. Their offensive has consisted of propaganda in the local media about problematic street behavior, increased police presence including a one month crackdown named Operation AveWatch and increased issuance of citations for petty offences like jaywalking, tearing down opposition fliers, and the physical sanitation of the street to make it look like a yuppie shopping strip.

This has been the longest and most concerted effort in years by the unholy alliance of merchants, property owners, the University of California, and now the City of Berkeley, to extinguish Telegraph’s longstanding street culture and further enforce mandatory consumer culture on the Avenue.

Put simply, its payoff time for the area’s reactionary backroom brokers who have spent the past few years coalition building in the form of the Telegraph Area Association. The TAA, and some previous incarnations before it, was formed as a new hegemonic force uniting those with institutionalized authoritarian power behind a mission of bringing the Avenue back under civilian control following the Volleyball Riots of 199__ that led to the empowerment of the street community and subsequent anarchy on Telegraph Avenue. The position of the police was so weakened by the uprising that occurred, that they were forced to tolerate an anything goes atmosphere on Telegraph and for one full year the Avenue belonged to the people.

But once again, Telegraph Avenue which has previously been home to people wanting to enjoy life, the streets, and eachother without spending a lot of money, are finding themselves forced out by a network of a few greedy people who want to play the street for their own personal profit.

There are two main forces, or stakeholders, in the Telegraph struggle. One is the money-making side, those who want the Avenue to be about profits and so have an interest in making sure that what goes on on the Avenue enhances their goal. The other side is the street community, people who come to Telegraph to hang out, to live out their days and their lives surving or thriving on the streets, trying to have a good time, as well as to meet their material needs.

Lots of other people come to the Avenue, but they are not stakeholders per se. They come as consumers, passing students, tourists, and weekend and fair weather hanger outers–all people who may have an opinion about how the Avenue should be and may come or not come to the Avenue for a particular reason, but are not people who really care too much. They are people who can always go somewhere else.

California and the Bay Area are continuing to experience a large population influx. This is already creating increased pressures on public space, rising rents, and an enlarged class of upwardly mobile people who have their sights set on Berkeley as a nice suburban second-best to too expensive San Francisco. The police are brought in as the security firm of this yuppie class wanting a safe playground.

Merchants, land owners, the University of California, are the driving forces. Their employees in the City of Berkeley and their security firm, the Berkeley Police Department, are doing the work for them. Government is the ideological framework which allows the ruling class to dictate society under pretensions of serving a public good.

From merchants to street vendors, from neighboring housing associations to the University of California and its lackey teacher’s-pet dorm reps, from real estate interests to the Chamber of Commerce to the Telegraph Area Association, all the forces of bourgeois and petty bourgeois Southside are united by a desire to eradicate the poor in order to increase profits. Anyone who stands in their way– homeless, punks, activists, idlers, the artistic, poetic, and the poor–will be eventually swept away, not only by the police, but by the subtle manouvers of a social class on the move.

Some middle class people are saying they feel uncomfortable on the Avenue as it is. Big fucking deal! The rich have every other yuppie shopping area in the world to go to. They own everything else, and everything in this society is set up for them and their money. So much so that they have much of the working class scrambling for one of their jobs so they can lift their ass out from over the fire of capitalism and its whipping stick, the criminal justice system. The yuppies think they’re going to now move into Telegraph Avenue, because they’re not content with owning just 99% of everything, they need to exert their God-given right to go anywhere own everything, and feel as though they’re in power. It pains them to not be respected for their money.

The seemingly benign calls for clean streets that evereyone is agreeing on if you read the newspapers should be seen for what it really is: a chorus for kinder, gentler you know what. Once the litter is picked up, guess what they’re going to start trying to pick up next. Once all those yuppies start coming and more and more stores cater to them, the unsightly people who aren’t sporting new wardrobes on a regular basis are going to start looking mighty out of place. The poor won’t have to be driven off the Avenue, they’ll leave because they’ll feel so uncompfortable amidst all the upwardly mobile yuppie scum.

Inspired by rising rents and their success at developing 4th Street and downtown, the ruling class now only has to drive the poor from the Telegraph area to complete their creation of the New Berkeley. People who aren’t shoppers or workers will have no place in the New Berkeley.

The rulers want to make being on the sidewalk if you are poor and not spending money illegal. They call it Ôloitering.’ Drinking a beer if you are poor and didn’t pay $3-4 for it in a restaurant is illegal. It’s called Ôdrinking in public.’ The people who make profits in Berkeley want and need people to buy. Other people just get in the way of the buying and there is no need for them in their society. That is why they hire police to go up and down the street harrassing anyone who looks poor and does not stay walking on the sidewalk treadmills they’ve set up. The police will come up with any petty reason or excuse to harrass you if you are poor. The bottom line is they don’t want you around. And if they haven’t already created a law for something some poor person is doing, then they’ll make one up, or they’ll get their politicians to write another one. They call this democracy.

A few years ago, the city cleverly installed pointy metal recycling containers on top of all the trash cans on Telegraph so no one could sit on them anymore. They said they were promoting recycling, but they really want to get poor people out of the area.

This time around Andy Ross, owner of Cody’s, and a few other money-happy merchants are leading the charge. But you can be sure that behind them are the bigger interests: the 2 or 3 commercial property owners who own most of the real estate along Telegraph, the University of California whose long range development plan wants Telegraph as a yuppie student shopping area, home owners in the surrounding area who want property values to go up, and the rest of the rich and their politicial representatives in Berkeley. The Bay Area is a desireable place to live and all these white people with money are moving to Berkeley, driving poor people out with high rents, and remaking the city in their image. That’s why they want a new police station and courthouse downtown, and that’s why they’re bringing the cops on to Telegraph Avenue to harrass you and me.

We need to stand up against the police and also confront the people and forces behind the police who are doing this to us. W
e need to otherwise improve the living conditions for those who are forced to or choose to live on the streets.