5 – Bigger Picture

By Jesse

Let’s not be myopic – it wouldn’t be worth it to focus our activist energy on a 2 acre park in Berkeley while we’re facing war, climate change, extreme wealth inequality and rising authoritarianism IF this struggle was really just about the Park. People’s Park has never just been about the Park.

The University of California (UC) doesn’t see this struggle as really about the Park, either. No park is worth sending in hundreds of police in the middle of the night to erect a blocks-long, 17 foot tall shipping container wall topped with razor wire.  Does UC really think Park supporters are super-dangerous disciplined insurgents like ISIS or the Viet Cong? Have the UC undercover cops never been to the Park meetings or hung around the activist scene in Berkeley? Surprise — we’re really nice regular people, some hippies and punks and students and older people — we have vegan potlucks, art supplies, musical instruments and bicycles.  Why would the UC over-react like this?

The UC attack isn’t about student housing — the Park is far from the only UC-owned land on which to build a dorm. UC has a 55 year-old grudge against the Park. UC built the shipping container wall for the same reasons UC was willing to shoot live ammunition and bring out the National Guard in 1969 – they want to provethat a People’s movement cannot take land. 

UC wants a world organized around money such that a few powerful people and the institutions they dominate control the lives of everyone else.  They use police and walls to keep us living in toxic, unsustainable, boring and soulless boxes. We demand a world that values freedom, beauty, decentralized non-hierarchical community, do-it-your-self moxie, and tolerance for a variety of different kinds of people — not obedience, conformity and greed.

When we took the Park in 1969 and held it all these years, it proved there are alternatives to this rotten system outside their non-profits, shitty jobs and endless condos. 

Back in 1969, like now, UC thought they could use unrestrained force to get a full win — a fence stayed up around People’s Park from 1969 until 1972 — but it turned into a standoff because of the magnitude of UC’s over-reaction — they had blood on their hands. So UC began a 50 year campaign not just to get the land back, but to win in the court of public opinion — to convince the average person that there’s no alternatives to their system and so UC should get to use the land as they see fit. 

And by 2024, UC thought they had won because for decades UC did everything they could to ruin and isolate the Park by frustrating improvements and convincing whoever would listen that the Park was dangerous and messy. UC actively sabotaged the Park — how else can we understand the very different fate of People’s Park vs. Willard Park which is only 2 blocks away?

The rulers keep playing versions of this nasty game — they make economic conditions so bad that people become unhoused or turn to crime, and then ask for more police to fight the problems the rulers themselves created.  They’re seeking to divide regular people against each other so we don’t focus on the real sources of our misery… 

UC wanted to teach Berkeley a lesson at any cost — “if you try to do something for yourself outside the system, you’ll never get away with it.” 

UC thinks all their police and their tall steel shipping containers make them strong, but it really just shows how weak and scared they are. They can build an ugly wall — but they’ll never win the real struggle. They cannot kill our awareness that a better world is possible. 

Standing in the blocked intersection in January, we laughed at the lines of police and yelled “You’ve fallen right into our trap! We have you just where we want you.” Obviously it doesn’t feel like winning to have a place you have known and loved your whole life sealed off and taken from you. I feel a sense of loss like someone died. I trace so many friendships back to the Park. It is odd to realize I may never sit there again — never hear music from the stage again. Never meet the Mardi Gras parade at the Park again. The word “never” hurts. UC wants it to hurt. Mateo said it felt like he had been dumped — he looked sad and broken. He wondered how he could visit Telegraph Avenue again without the Park? 

At times like these, we have to take the long-term view and not let them hurt us — not let ourselves become bitter or hardened or disillusioned. We have to focus on our strength, which is our love, our freedom, our tenderness and our community which are far more powerful and valuable than their police, their hierarchical organization and their fucking decaying empire.