Preserving People’s Park as a Public Commons

People’s Park provides refuge for the “indigent” (as the University of California calls us), and remains important as a place for free speech and alternative cultural events. The Park is a public commons, and preserves trees and green space. It is a historic symbol of the era of peace and freedom.

by Michael Diehl

“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

— “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kris Krisfoferson, sung by Janis Joplin

Well, it is not a rumor any more. News articles in the Daily Californian, San Francisco Chronicle and Berkeley Voice have reported the release of the UC Housing Master Plan for student housing that includes People’s Park among eight possible sites for student housing.

This master plan was on the agenda of the University of California Regent Board meeting on March 15. Fortunately, it was not acted on.

However, Carol Christ was appointed at that meeting to be the new Chancellor of UC Berkeley and she has been quoted in news reports as a strong proponent of building student housing on People’s Park.

This gives special importance to this year’s 48th anniversary event at People’s Park on Sunday, April 23, from noon to 6 p.m.

On March 22, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin responded to questions about UC’s plans for People’s Park by saying he planned to talk to the incoming chancellor and tell her that, while supportive of the need to build more student housing in Berkeley, the plan to build on People’s Park was the least desirable option since it would create great division.

Groups critical of national security initiatives that promote mutual aid coordination of Bay Area police departments have asked that the Berkeley Police Department be instructed not to participate with the UC police in efforts directed at activists protesting efforts to build on the park. The matter returns to the Berkeley City Council on the evening of April 25.

It has taken some time over the past two months since UC’s planning became public knowledge for activist defenders of the park to start mobilizing to oppose such a plan. As usual, we are certainly not kept in the loop of information about the University of California’s plans for the park — especially since the discontinuation of the People’s Advisory Board a number of years ago.

The University of California ignored a resolution from the Berkeley City Council to have some open process for users of the park to talk to the UC about concerns around the park. UC officials have consistently vetoed our community’s efforts to concretely make improvements in the park.

They have opposed efforts to paint the stage, do gardening and provide free clothes, and have not allowed the community to have input on how to preserve trees in the park.

UC officials have opposed efforts to have a health van continue its needed visits to the park and opposed a needle exchange box in the park. They have opposed plans to allow at least some people to use carts to ease the pain of having to carry stuff with us, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It all seems part of an effort to allow the park to run down and lose popular support so UC’s effort to build student housing and take away our public commons can occur.

After months of rumors of secret meetings held by UC officials, on Jan. 26, 2017, the Daily Californian reported that UC Berkeley’s Housing Master Plan Task Force had proposed eight potential sites for new student housing, including People’s Park. The task force was carrying out the President’s Student Housing Initiative launched by UC President Janet Napolitano, with a goal of massively expanding student housing by 2020.

The UC housing task force reported that the housing location proposed in People’s Park would create 200 to 350 additional beds for UC students.

On March 3, the Daily Cal reported that Carol Christ, UC’s interim executive vice chancellor and chairperson of the housing task force, said the University of California had a severe shortage of student housing. “We need to double our capacity; it’s hard to imagine doing that without, ultimately, using the land we have.”

Supporters of People’s Park are highly concerned about UC’s plan to “use the land they have” for student housing.

 

Dedicated people give free meals to folks at People’s Park — and keep alive one of the core values of the counterculture that created the Park. Lydia Gans photo

 

UC officials reportedly have said that in addition to 350 beds for student housing, they may support added homeless services. But we already have a number of such services, but very little actual housing for Berkeley’s homeless people, so we need a place for refuge far more.

The San Francisco Chronicle on October 18 and 19 did a good job of presenting the views of both park users and supporters and the proponents of building on the park, including the director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District.

Currently, a small number of park activists are meeting regularly and discussing the issue of how to respond, as we organize for the park anniversary event on Sunday, April 23. We feel that reaching out to UC students is key to stopping plans to build on the park. We have approached the Suitcase Clinic and the student chapter of Copwatch.

I did the Housing Crisis event in the park last October 15 to address the common needs we and students have for housing, and we would like to work together for housing on other places, such as on the east end of Clark Kerr campus, or the old art museum. We need to build student housing which will lessen the pressure on housing in general in the Berkeley area.

We feel that the park, in addition to providing refuge for the “indigent” (as the University of California calls us), remains important as a place for free speech, public commons, preserving trees and green space and for alternative cultural reasons, and emergency situations such as an earthquake.

There have been efforts to preserve People’s Park as a place of historical importance, but we need to make it to the park’s 50 years milestone in 2019; at present, we are two years short, which may be another reason why UC is moving now.

The 48th anniversary of People’s Park will be held on Sunday, April 23, in the park. It will be an important time for people to show up and show solidarity with the park. It will start at noon with the native All Nations Drummers followed by longtime park activist Yukon Hannibal’s drumming and singing, the singing of Max Ventura (another longtime park supporter and advocate of nonviolent resistance), SOUL park, Swords to Plowshares and Berkeley Liberation Radio activist, Occupella, the Funky Nixons, Driftwood Dave and the Drifftones, the Diva Band (all bands with park activists), millennial bands Isaiah McLane and friends doing hip hop, and ending with 924 Gilman faves Skankbank (ska naturally) plus Trump and other speakers.

We want to keep the event peaceful in the spirit of the antiwar and free speech roots of the park, but also believe in self defense against those who would violently attack us.

On Sunday, April 9, at 1 p.m., we are calling for a discussion on whether we should organize a summer mobilization to defend the park against UC’s bulldozers and police. Hopefully, UC officials will not make such a defense necessary and will decide not to go ahead with plans to build on the park.

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.