The last tree standing – coalition support keeps memorial oak grove alive

In an ongoing demonstration of integrity, the Memorial Oak Woodland tree-sit, on the University of California (UC) Berkeley campus, continues amongst 42 threatened mature trees (38 of which are native Coast Live Oaks.) The aim is to preserve the grove’s intricate eco-system from being developed into a “Student Athlete High Performance Center.” Also acting with ongoing diligence is the University of California’s Police Department.

The sit began on December 2nd, when a couple of environmental activists occupied the trees in response to UC plans to develop a 155,000 square foot gymnasium, incurring over $250 million dollars in economic costs. This drive to sacrifice the natural world for financial growth is clearly not an isolated incident, but rather is the result of a worsening psychosis, a series of symptoms indicating impaired contact with the reality that the eco-systems they are all too eager to wipe out are in fact intrinsic to the same broader eco-system human life depends on.

Fortunately, the Berkeley tree-sit has grown to 7-10 sitters, a dedicated group of on-sight ground supporters, and local community members providing hot meals, supplies, frequent visits and much love. Despite the Alameda Superior Court’s ruling on January 29th barring UC from moving forward until lawsuits against the plans can be heard, the university’s private police department continues to follow through with orders to shake down those involved. There have been several raids on the protesters involving the destruction and confiscation of property and a growing number of threats, citations and arrests.

Some of the latest arrests have been made under questionable circumstances. Tree-sitter “Tinkerbell” was arrested around 2am on April 6th on trespassing and illegal lodging charges. The young woman was reportedly grabbed while hanging onto the limb of one of the smaller oak trees. Witnesses have said that she was handled roughly by the officers who caused her pants to be pulled down in the process and who held her face down in the dirt while sitting on top of her. Later that morning, Zachery Running Wolf was arrested under alleged warrants for unresolved bicycle tickets. Friends of the political activist suspect the police are targeting Wolf for his political actions and influence. Meanwhile, UC detectives are building up information on those involved with the sit. The activists have grown accustomed to frequent visits from officials. Night and day, those on site can expect to be photographed and questioned. While some choose to not respond, others have been engaging in an ongoing discourse with the authorities, possibly in hopes to find a common ground or at least a common decency. Still, the pressure is building.

At this time there are four lawsuits against the project; three of them have been consolidated into one suit. The City of Berkeley suit is founded mainly on the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act and the California Environmental Quality Act. The grove and stadium exist on top of the Hayward Fault and the plans to build a sports facility on this site have been widely criticized as dangerous and unwise. The California Oak Foundation also filed a motion against the destruction of the grove. With widespread development and a fungal epidemic known as Sudden Oak Death Syndrome, which has killed thousands of oaks since 1995, the site is an important genetic resource and the last remaining grove of Coast Live Oaks in the Berkeley lowlands. A Berkeley law prohibits cutting of Live Oaks with a diameter of greater than 12 inches. The University has no intentions of adhering to Berkeley City law.

There is no denying the direct link between fewer living trees and the rise of global warming. Very simply, fewer trees, no matter how good our football players, means we are that much closer to our own extinction. This, though, does not seem to be convincing evidence for a conglomerate as insatiable as the University of California.

When asking officer Michael Wycoff his thoughts on who would win the dispute, the university or the trees, ground supporters did not know whether to laugh or to cry. “I don’t know. All I know is that these trees aren’t paying my bills.” This is true. While UC Berkeley operates at the rate of ten billion dollars per year, its corporate funds are a steadily increasing part of university research budgets. This institution has a long history of managing nuclear weapons programs and has plans to refurbish the nations nuclear stockpiles. A $500 million dollar deal with BP could turn Strawberry Canyon into a testing facility for genetically modified organisms, and of course, UC would like to replace one of the few remaining green spaces into what some claim will be a hub for the ever growing steroid industry. That all may very well pay young officer Mike’s bills, but there’s nothing in those plans that can actually nourish him or any of us and allow us to experience life. Food, air, water, harmony – these are provided not by any said industry, but rather by planet Earth. Of course, in the end, the trees are going to win. More immediately however, the lives of these trees are currently dependent on the direct protection of the sitters. If the court ruling (a date not yet set but expected for the end of May) lands in favor of the University, the difficulties of continuing the action will heighten. For this it is important that the support be made even stronger through steady community nourishment. If you are in the area, please visit the grove located on Piedmont Ave near Bancroft Ave and the International House. The crew is always welcoming of new company, warm meals and nonperishable food, blankets, instruments, climbing gear, supplies and enthusiasm. If you are elsewhere on the planet, remember that this is a worldwide epidemic. In examining these circumstances, can it be said that human destruction begins with a tendency towards objectifying our planet? When the trees and rivers, the earth and sky become expendable at the prospect of cash and football, we see something has deeply affected the relationship between civilization and much of reality. If we are to get better, to truly regain awareness, and act in harmony, must we not do it with loving intent, exploration, and courage?