Our dear friend, comrade, mentor, inspiration and sometimes critic Michael Delacour died March 9, 2023. Michael was a founder of People’s Park in Berkeley in 1969, but he was much more to generations of Berkeley direct action radicals. Michael was always in the struggle not as a remote self-important “leader,” but as an equal, in the trenches, a ground-level participant. He was the embodiment of direct action — not just fighting the police and stirring up good trouble, which was one of his talents — but building physical stuff in service of creating a new type of society.
He helped build the Park — convening a meeting where the Park was proposed and then bringing rolls of turf and shovels to the park. Building the Park was about living the revolution now — not just talking theory but physically constructing the world we want — a world organized around human needs, fun, freedom and the Earth instead of the system’s violence, pollution, technology and wealth for the few at the expense of the many. Building the Park was a communal effort — “Everyone Gets a Blister!”
Michael wasn’t just interested in the Park — he wasn’t about nostalgia at all. He was about fighting for the underdog, the working class, the homeless — the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, Palestine… He built freeboxes at the Park just as fast as the police would destroy them. He helped organize squats — some as protests and others just to house people.
Michael was a 1960s figure who treated younger people with respect and as equals — which unfortunately isn’t typical. Part of treating us as equals was giving us a hard time. When Slingshot and younger anarchists moved into the Long Haul, he said was going to organize “workers with axe handles” to fight off the anarchists…
Park activist Max Ventura wrote “If he’s looking down now, he’d probably be yelling at us all as we write about him, calling us elitists because we can write. How many times he yelled that at me when he wasn’t asking me to write something and then when I reminded him I have exactly zero plumbing or electrical or mechanical skills, which he used all the time in the movement, he’d nod. Often, the next moment he’d be chuckling, glad to be recognized for his invaluable skills and work. When there was water backing up in pipes to the park, he was out there trying to pinpoint the source of the issue. Always hands-on.”
Eggplant remembers “The first time i interacted with Michael Delacour was in the late 1990’s at a protest. Fair enough that was his life being at protests. We had assembled at Biko Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus to try to Stop the War on Palestine. It was one of those low tide moments of our movement when there were more cops than protesters. Even in the fucking bathroom. Half a dozen pigs doing the wiggle before the urinal just as we needed to. Upon exiting Michael said, ‘That was odd.’ I’m pretty sure he let out a ‘Brother’ as well.
“Michael often would say ‘Brother’ and it didn’t sound fake. It actually sounded like he learned it when a great crack came in the consciousness. Saying Brother meant something and wasn’t a cliché. A realization of collective survival, collective work and celebration.
“To say Michael is a co-creator of People’s Park is reductive. He was a die-hard participant in the movement. And a very unique, specific creature of the movement. Michael lived as a Berkeley radical. When i met him he was moonlighting from the Park to uplift our local pirate radio station Berkeley Liberation Radio (based in Oakland) as well as be involved in city politics. Speaking out against the war, the Marines. Running his wife Gina as a progressive for city office, protecting KPFA from neoliberals.
“As Michael got older, our political situation just tanked. Bad people in power making the worst choices. People of conscience felt doom and dread. I would encounter Michael at People’s Park during Food Not Bombs — a good place to catch up with the freaks and gossip about the times. Michael was in deteriorating health. His inclination to complain turned to me: ‘You people at Long Haul what are you doing to stop the problem?’
“Yeah. Long Haul. Slingshot. Ineffective in stopping this shit. Band-aids maybe. Clean needles. A toilet and place to sit, to talk, open for 3 hours. A free newspaper. A library of Berkeley radicals ranting on paper.
“Of course i would see Michael often at the Park his remaining days including that ugly hot mess when UC killed 47 trees. I missed the rally at Biko Plaza — arriving just as they marched. Telegraph Ave filled with hundreds of people, in angry focused chants “PEEEPLES PAAARK!” Very much like i would see when i was a teenager in 1989 but this time no one is breaking windows. Though honestly something is gonna need to scare away the chainstores from Southside. Maybe some fucking windows need to break. We soon occupied the park and Michael was amongst our defiant re-occupation as was Osha Neumann, Karen Pickett, Eddie Yuen, Mac from Funky Nixons, Lisa Stevens, Rusty — the amazing ancestors of crazed Berkeley radicals who were right all long but had to watch society go the other way. The drama heightened since we had about 40 years waiting for UC to wreak havoc on what we built. As awful it was to have the police invade, brutalize our people and the land, it was heart- warming to see ordinary people not be idle, rip down the fence and retake the park. Michael like the rest of us was clearly heartbroken and scared about the future. But he was also caught up in the beauty of the moment where hundreds of people were in the park. Mobilized. Some were heatedly discussing the future. Many were working in teams moving the fallen trees into defensive positions. And many more of us got comfortable standing our ground — ready to take on the next day.”