Activists are organizing to resist an early morning surprise attack by a bulldozer-wielding University of California landscaping crew against People’s Park in Berkeley December 28 that reduced trees and volunteer-built gardens to sterile piles of wood chips. Pushing back to prevent future destruction invites park supporters to increase outreach about what the park means and what it has to offer.
People’s Park is arguably an occupation that’s been running for 43 years. Constructed without permission, it created a beautiful community on vacant University of California (UC) land in 1969. Clashes with police lead to rioting, police shootings that left one man dead, and a National Guard occupation of Berkeley when UC tried to seize and destroy the park. The UC has always claimed to legally own the land on which the park still sits on Dwight Way east of Telegraph, but since 1969 they have never been able to control it. Over the years, park users have practiced “user development” by building and tending gardens, trees and landscaping. Like our occupations now, it is a rare place in the city open to everyone, hosting a free speech stage and daily free food servings — and attracting many homeless people and traveler kids.
Unable to take back the park outright, the University has periodically tested the waters to gauge continuing support — tearing up gardens, destroying freeboxes and bathrooms constructed by park users and building sports courts on the park against the will of park users. Community resistance to these attacks have usually caused UC to back down.
It remains to be seen how folks will resist the most recent attack. As early as 4 am on December 28, UC bulldozers protected by police leveled landscaped garden areas and tore out and grinding up numerous fruit trees. Work crews cut down the historic Council Grove of trees that hosted many park meetings. They also cut the top off a trellis built by volunteers that had earlier been approved by UC officials after almost a year of tedious meetings. The bulldozer destroyed plum trees, native manzanita, olives, grape vines, kiwi plants, maguey, nopales cactus, and a mature rose bush as well as beautiful plants like pink amaryllis bulb flowers, pyrocantha and a palm like plant. The surprise attack came during a holiday week to minimize the number of witnesses and students in the area.
Each time UC has tried to mess with the park, its been like stepping into a hornets nest. The park is still relevant today, both as a symbol of past victories and as liberated land that still, amazingly, is mostly outside of the control of corporations and government. People’s Park exists for use, not for sale.
The best way to protect the park and scare UC off from further attacks is to use the park as a thriving venue for radical action, alternative culture, art, music and life outside of consumerism. East Bay Food Not Bombs has served lunch a 3 pm Monday-Friday at the Park for the last 20 years. Since last fall, every Sunday at noon anarchists have assembled to use the park as liberated space, inspired by liberated spaces in Greece.
While over the years the park has served as a launching pad for generations of radical activities, each new generation of students at the UC Berkeley campus generally shows up unaware of the park’s legacy or its potential. It requires constant effort to keep community education about the park alive for the students and folks in Berkeley in general. As occupations crop up across the globe, we can expect more actions to liberate land, and stiff resistance to defend what we’ve already seized. Plug into what’s going on a People’s Park, or build your own park and defend it this spring.