8 – Liberate People’s Park

By Jesse D. Palmer

In the middle of the night on January 3, the University of California (UC) called in hundreds of police to seize People’s Park in Berkeley — arresting a handful of people who refused to move. UC then used about 160 empty steel shipping containers to build a 17 foot tall wall all the way around the 2.8 acre Park — topped in places with razor wire and protected by lights and cameras. Public Records Act documents indicate the police and wall cost at least $6.6 million. Police towed cars and sealed off whole city blocks for several days — requiring apartment dwellers within the cordon to prove they lived there. If you walk around and see the wall, it’s hard to believe it is in an urban neighborhood with fancy houses and dorms across the street. UC is still in a court case over their right to construct a $400 million dorm on the Park — the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments April 3.

What’s up with UC’s fortress-like over-reaction? For UC, the wall and the proposed dorm aren’t really about supplying student housing. The Park is far from the only UC-owned land on which to build a dorm. The wall is a result of UC’s 55 year-old grudge against the Park and its supporters, who have repeatedly made fools of successive generations of UC bureaucrats. UC built the wall for the same reasons UC was willing to shoot live ammunition and bring out the National Guard in 1969 – they want to prove that a people’s movement cannot take and hold land.  For years leading up to the wall, UC did everything it could to sabotage and isolate the Park by frustrating improvements — and then UC claimed the Park needed to be destroyed because it was neglected. 

While the wall looks insurmountable, it’s foolhardy to under-estimate the Park. The Park didn’t survive for 55 years by being reasonable or defeatist — rather the Park has always counted on magic and long-odds. 

For Berkeley Park activists, the Park isn’t just a struggle over 2+ acres while we’re facing war, climate change, extreme wealth inequality, racism, patriarchy, homophobia and rising authoritarianism. The Park is about ideas — that community is more important than commerce, that life is about more than stuff, that we don’t all have to conform to outdated, empty, soul-less norms.

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 boxes. We demand a world that values freedom, beauty, love, decentralized non-hierarchical community, do-it-your-self moxie — not just obedience 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.  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’re afraid of their own students, so they planned the raid at 3 am during winter break. They’re afraid Berkeley activists would tear down a regular fence, so they built a delusional military-level fortification. 

UC and the corporations and power structures it represents should be afraid. Eventually — who knows when? — regular people are going to come together and tear down their power structures that have brought so much death, destruction, inequality and environmental destruction around the world. Another world is possible.