People’s Park in Berkeley — perhaps the longest-running land occupation in the US —turns 50 years old in 2019, but there’s no time for nostalgia. The park is facing imminent destruction from a University of California Berkeley (UC) plan to construct an up to 1,000 bed dorm, so defenders are struggling to defend the land. Over school winter-break, scores of police in riot gear staged 2 pre-dawn raids so that crews could clear-cut the Eastern half of the park and clear out a protest camp. Over 40 trees were cut and 6 people were arrested. UC claimed the raids had nothing to do with the development plan and were part of “routine tree maintenance.” What a joke — everything about the surprise raids showed UC’s deception and bad faith regarding the park.
Constructed without UC permission in 1969 to create a beautiful community on vacant UC land, UC’s first 1969 attempt to seize back and destroy the People’s Park lead to rioting, police shootings that left bystander James Rector dead and dozens wounded, and a week-long National Guard occupation of Berkeley.
UC has always claimed to legally own the land, but they have blood on their hands and 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 as determined by users, not government managers. In response, UC has done everything it could to undermine community efforts, destroying gardens and free-boxes, and encouraging social disintegration.
The park is a rare place in the city open to everyone, hosting a free speech stage and daily free food servings. People’s Park exists for use by people, not for sale or profit. For decades, the slogan on the street when it comes to UC proposals to develop People’s Park has been “they try it, we riot.”
Dorm construction may begin in 2020 and has received support from Berkeley’s mayor and other city officials, in contrast to previous development attempts that received much less support. UC hopes that wide-spread gentrification and the housing crisis will finally allow them free reign over the Park, but nothing’s certain when it comes to People’s Park. According to the People’s Park Committee, which is organizing 50th anniversary celebrations in April and coordinating defense of the park: “Student housing can be built elsewhere. The city and campus community must prevent UC Berkeley and private corporations from decimating People’s Park precious green space. There are several alternative locations to build student housing.”
The best way to protect the park is to build solid community support by using 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 at 3pm Monday-Friday at the Park for the last 25 years. Park committee meetings are Sundays at 1pm. Let 1,000 Parks Bloom! More info at peoplespark.org.
• Class on People’s Park and the Right to the Commons – UC Berkeley thru April 30. Tuesdays 5-6 pm Barrows Hall Room 166 syllabus at Peoplespark.org
• Walking tour of Telegraph Avenue with park- founder Michael Delacour see peoplespark.org