By jean meeds
I had just heard about the People’s Park takeover by word of mouth here in Berkeley, and that day after the first night when people’s park was occupied by the police, I was walking down University Avenue towards the Berkeley Marina where I saw a caravan of Highway Patrol cars that stretched from the corner of University and San Pablo all the way to the bridge that goes over the freeway. And they kept coming with all the cars completely full of 4-5 Highway patrolmen, as it was later in the day and they were heading to People’s Park to do the night shift. I talked to a few marginalized people on the sidewalks who were not familiar with the takeover yet. While we having our brief discussion, The CHP’s were checking us out and looking at us like we were persons of interest. One has to remember that Berkeley, CA is the place where the origin of the idea of a militarized police force first took place under August Vollmann. Vollmann came back from a counter- insurgency war in the Philippines in the time period of 1899-1902, went to the U.S. and began forming police units with the idea of treating civilians in the community the same way they treated the insurgents in the Philippines. Obviously that idea still has impact today as that was how they treated the people who were in the People’s Park that night – like they were the insurgents when the police invasion happened.
Part of the conversation we had was about the enormous amount of overtime money that the police were going to be paid as part of this operation. Their base pay is around $110,000 and with the overtime pay that was used as an incentive to get them to stay at the park overnight, this was going to add up to a huge sum of money that the city most certainly could use in better ways. This is a topic that almost everyone I have talked to about this subject seems to agree on, regardless of what their political orientation is or whether they are for or opposed to idea of People’s Park.
A little later that afternoon/early evening I met a person from Portland, OR, now living in Berkeley, who was pulling weeds and gardening. She didn’t know anything about what was going on in People’s park, but she did mention what was going on here was similar to what was happening in Portland during and after the time when George Floyd was killed. The Federal government sent in a contingent of Federal officers to put down the demonstrations. She also mentioned that things were not yet healed between the Police and the community. This also has some relevance here in Berkeley as outside police forces are again being sent in.
It is also of interest here that while I was a women’s /girl volleyball coach at Longfellow Middle school in the Fall of 2023, there were young 6th grade players who would wear People’s Park T-shirts to practice. This indeed shows the positive influence of the park upon the local community! Also on a recent trip to Amoeba Music, I had the opportunity to take a quick look at what was going on in People’s park and it looked like there was construction of some type going on which runs counter to their narrative that they could not/would do any work of this sort until the legal challenges were cleared. I had a quick conversation with a worker at Amoeba while I was making a purchase and his comment was that it was “sad.”
When the formation of People’s Park was going on the late 1960s it did look like the world was in a Revolutionary state and real fundamental change could be accomplished. People’s Park was part of the heritage of this era. Now, that the Counter-Revolution is in vogue, they are attempting to tear down one of the symbols of that hope for a New and Better World! There is still time for us to withstand this assault on People’s Park and to take up the struggle to remake the world into more egalitarian place for all!