People’s Park: This is the People’s Land

People’s Park is Berkeley’s urban green space, community center, arts & culture venue, and liberated patch of land for the landless — 53 years strong!

Pink distortion of photo of peoples park immediately after destruction

On the night of August 3, 2022, it was obvious UC police and construction crews weren’t coming to People’s Park with good intentions.

Heavily armed riot police encircled the last tent dweller with a clear message: move or be moved. Police shoved his stuff into bins and forced him out. As the fence quickly went up around the park, many activists were trapped inside. People stood on top of the kitchen, yelling to those outside, as the helicopters started circling.

People cried as they watched an urban forest brought to its knees ­— trees they had planted, laid under on hot days, or lived under in times of need.

Had the university’s brutal assault succeeded that day, every chance encounter, basketball game, hip-hop show, free meal, or stoned daydream at People’s Park would have been the last. We can’t allow that to happen. Bulldozers and riot police don’t offer opportunities for healing.

The university promotes their plans for People’s Park as a generous offer. But they don’t allow the park’s ‘people’ the autonomy to define what genuine support would look like, or to reject these plans! So we are left with little choice but to put our bodies on the line to stop it.

The university must acknowledge that further attempts to demolish our community and cultural center will be harmful and traumatic. They could create vast opportunities for student housing by confronting the wealthy suburbs surrounding the campus. And they can open their abundant land holdings to the landless!

Before People’s Park was born in 1969, the land between Haste and Dwight streets was cheap housing. The buildings housed students, political organizers, hippies and dropouts, and were a center of the Telegraph Avenue counter-culture scene.

The university was eager to get rid of this scene, which caused constant protests on the campus, so they acquired the entire block through eminent domain. The landowners were told “we’re getting rid of the hippies.” During finals week in fall 1967, they gave everyone a 3-day eviction notice and demolished the entire block.

The ruined foundations and basements became filled with stagnant water, and the old backyards were being used as a muddy parking lot. The students and residents of southside got tired of the eyesore and injuries sustained by children playing in the lot, and decided to take action. Hundreds of people brought in soil, trees, grass sod, and created a park.

A few weeks later, the university stormed the park and fenced it off. The National Guard was stationed 24/7 on the site. On May 15, 1969 35,000 people marched to free the park from the state occupation. Governor Reagan and the UC Regents unleashed police on the crowds, authorizing the use of live ammunition. Hundreds were shot at, 35 seriously wounded, and one died defending this effort to create common land. Governor Reagan doubled down, stating “if it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.”

Eventually activist pressure prevailed, through persistent marches, strikes, and widespread student, faculty, and community support for the park. In 1971 the park was landscaped and green again! The park motto “Everybody gets a Blister” is from this era.

In 1979 a new UC plan to build a fee parking lot was sprung on the public. A machine to take fees was installed, and a portion of the park was paved. The idea seemed to be to claim a little piece, with more to come. With the support of Berkeley’s then mayor, Black socialist Gus Newport, Park defenders rented jackhammers, ripped up the asphalt and the fee machine was bashed and removed. In 1984 the park was made a Berkeley City landmark again under Newport’s leadership.

In 1991, the university tried to re-assert itself over the park with a gradual plan beginning with the installation of sand volleyball courts.

A new wave of organizing began, with the rallying slogan “Defend the Park,” which was shared in coordinated solidarity with organizers at Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side of New York City.

Emergency committees were established. Nightly vigils and open meetings were held. As a UC construction team arrived in July, hundreds of protesters gathered to prevent the bulldozer from breaking ground. The final cost to UC of installing one sand volleyball court was $1 million.

One young radical, Rosebud Denovo, took matters into her own hands. With a machete in hand, she forced her way into the chancellor’s mansion. The chancellor wasn’t even there, but that didn’t stop the police from shooting her dead.

Today, the university has a more compelling plan for People’s Park. It involves constructing student housing and some more affordable, low-income units.

UC is betting that students today have forgotten the park’s history, don’t know of its central role as a heart of the street community, or simply are afraid to set foot inside. They have claimed there are no alternative housing sites, despite owning 110 acres at Clark Kerr campus. But hey, that’s close to rich people.

And one thing about rich people, as I was told by a UC Capital Strategies official: “They are really well organized”.

Defend People’s Park!

Food not bombs serving in the park

Are you being designed?

A process called “design thinking” is being utilized by corporations, academia, and the state to disguise violence and displacement. Basically it works like this:

Scenario 1

The university wants to build expensive dorms on People’s Park to “develop the potential of the area” and create a “win-win-win” situation. Naturally, the UC thinks the free green space, presence of poor people hanging out and playing music is “impeding development.” So they hire some firms like LMS Architects to design a number of models of what they “could” (read: intend to) build there, and Walter Hood Studio to design a nice “monument” to the lives they are displacing. UC and these design firms hold a public input session to “discuss” these “solutions.” You find out about the meeting and go with a bunch of people who live at and use the park. The “discussion” is a speech by somebody from the design firm showing off multiple “potential models” of the buildings that will replace the park. You and your friends get mad and start asking questions about what will happen to the people who live there, breaking into loud chants at times. Security people show up, but the designer tells them to let you speak. The designers say you and your friends make interesting points and she’d like your ideas to be incorporated into the new plans.

You feel confused, angry, but strangely hopeful that this big-wig might take your concerns into account. The designer has everyone at the session split into small groups to discuss different aspects of the plan like “public usage,” “beautification,” “security” and “community impact”… you and your friends are split up to try to variously influence the official people there to talk about why this plan will displace you. The meeting ends, the free snacks are eaten. You and your friends leave, the official plan will move forward unchanged.

Scenario 2

A mass campus movement has called for the abolition of campus police and funding and creation of a food pantry open to the public. After months of silence or repression, the Chancellor suddenly invites prominent or well-connected students of the movement to join a new advisory council on “Re-imagining Campus Security and Basic Needs.”

Despite the university having hundreds of administrators whose job it is to move money around and establish new programs, they want you to take the lead on this re-imagining. The committee will have 2 radical students, 2 student politician types who hand-wave and do nothing, and 4 administrators with fancy titles who are there to “help” you understand how to implement your ideas (i.e. tell you why it’s so complicated and how you can’t get anything done). After months of “learning the ropes” of university budgets or administration, the committee will run out of time. It produces a 50-page report and disbands. None of the movement’s demands will be implemented, but the committee’s report will continually be cited by the chancellor to justify the continuation of the status quo.

Disorientation recommends the following response to “design”: Flip the tables, make a lot of noise, don’t listen to anything they tell you! It’s all bullshit. Start getting organized, and grow a militant movement until your demands are realized!

On being a student of color at Cal

In poor schools across the country, college admission is discussed as if it is a golden ticket into paradise. On my college visits as a high school senior, the promise of paradise was superficially confirmed by the overflowing food at the dining halls, the rows of brand new computers in the computer labs and the promise of financial aid dollars. I was also promised the opportunity of joining a prestigious intellectual community.

Coming from a “low-performing” urban high school, where most classes included worksheets and goofing off, I was excited to become a part of a community that valued critical thinking. But as soon as I started receiving acceptance material it became clear that paradise was more like a polishing school for suburban middle and upper class students in order for them to secure corporate jobs.

My dreams of becoming part of the greater campus community quickly dissipated as I was encouraged to limit my activities and course schedule to those organized by students and faculty of color, most of whom shared my feelings of rejection and disappointment. What I had not been prepared for was that leaving my home town and “movin’ on up” also meant entering into a world where what I said, what I wore, what music I liked to listen to and the color of my skin, made me strange.

Together the African American community on campus made our own parallel institution within the greater university, and this was somewhat satisfying. We had our own newspaper, theater group, acapella group, themed dorm and graduate ceremony. This was our way of challenging the isolation and alienation that we had found in paradise, but what I realize now is that it was never paradise to begin with. The modern college culture that rejected me and other students of color is universally alienating and dehumanizing. Those suburban men and women who I was so envious of are being manipulated into sacrificing their spiritual, psychological and physical health to become slaves to a way of life dominated by fear and aggression.

All they get for their sacrifice are trinkets bought on credit. At least I was welcomed into a community when I got to college which was nurturing, meaningful and did not require hazing to become a member.

Now I am in graduate school at Cal and I have seen students of color struggle with the same sense of bewilderment that I felt when I first got to college. What has helped me this time around has been an understanding that the dominant culture of the university is a disease that infects our ability to make connections.

Our ability to identify relationships between people, our environment, our hearts, our minds and our actions are destroyed by the modern diseases of isolation, otherization, manipulation and domination which flourish on our campus. The antidote that has worked for me in warding off these devastating diseases and their consequences (depression, apathy, drug and alcohol abuse), has been seeking out the interconnections within my life and the world around me. It has also included becoming active in creating a campus culture that is conscious and respectful of diversity and interdependence.

Dreaming of liberation…

Photo of lush park greenhouse tent & gazebo

Dover St Edible Park – an Oakland food justice project

From ‘Abolish the UC!’
Twitter @AbolishtheUC

Over the last decade the UC has dramatically increased the money it spends on policing. Every UC campus saw over a 50% increase in police expenditures, with five of the ten campuses doubling their police budgets in the last decade.

When we talk about police budgets, it is because we know defunding the police is one way to reduce their capacity on the way to eliminating them entirely.

We want the police off our campuses for the same reason we want the police out of everywhere else. But our desires don’t stop there. Abolishing the police is only the first step in the larger project of abolition, a project that seeks to overcome the carceral logics that undergird every part of our society, including the university.

That is why, although we adamantly support the movement to abolish campus police, we cannot be satisfied with a university that “has the right priorities” or allocates its budget according to the so- called “public good.” Our ultimate horizon is not to reform the university but to destroy it and the anti-Black, colonial-capitalist World of which it is a part. In the new world(s) beyond that horizon, neither the university nor the police have any place.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

I hadn’t attended class in weeks. I couldn’t keep up with assignments, I barely left my room. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew it was time to seek help. If you find yourself in a crisis like mine, here’s what you need to know:

Call (510) 642-9494 to make an appointment with University Health Services—any student can do this, regardless of insurance. It took me a long time to make the call; I had no experience with mental health professionals and I assumed that my symptoms weren’t “severe” enough to bother with. Don’t make that judgment yourself, the intake staff at UHS can determine what kind of care is best for you.

Drop-in counseling is available at their offices in the Tang Center. Now, call their phone line and state that you would like “Drop-in urgent counseling.” This is very useful for immediate help — you’ll probably have to wait at least two weeks before getting an appointment with a counselor the regular way. Urgent is a very loose term: you can qualify for urgent care if you are having thoughts of self-harm, or if you haven’t attended class in a week, among other reasons. I recommend taking an urgent counseling session whenever possible.

If you do not qualify for drop-in urgent counseling, you can take a walk-in, virtual Let’s Talk Counseling session. Just sign up online. Either way, it’s better than waiting.

About your University counselor: they are (in my experience) all very nice, helpful people that are on your side. But they are overburdened and underpaid by the university, so your meetings with them will be limited to three sessions a semester, two weeks apart between sessions.

Suffice to say, this is not a lot of time. I suspected I had depression, but I was too shy to be pushy with a diagnosis with my counselor; instead, I settled for describing my symptoms and experiences. This isn’t the right approach: there’s just not enough time with your counselor to play detective like that. Observe your symptoms on your own time, then consult the internet, talk to your friends, or reach out to Peer advising, and come up with a name for what you might be suffering from. Communicating this with your counselor ensures that you’ll get the kind of help you need quicker.

As you can see, the biggest problem with Berkeley’s mental health services is that it is S L O W ! It is very difficult to rely on the University’s slow-ass mental health services to help you while you’re still trying to complete schoolwork. UHS can hook you up with the school’s pretty generous Disabled Students Program (you should always do this), reduce your courseload, or change your grading option. Another option to consider is withdrawing from school for medical reasons (by the way, SHIP lasts ‘till the end of the semester even if you withdraw).

If you do decide to stay in school, make sure to be frank and open with your professors that you are struggling with your mental health; your counselor can even write a letter of “proof” that you can show your professors. Even if you aren’t in the DSP program (they’re ALSO SLOW), the professor might offer you accommodations regardless.

The university does not adequately fund its mental health programs! You’ll have to advocate for yourself to get the help you need.

In crisis? Pause, take a breath. Call a hotline or somebody you trust.

Free Food! Cal Fresh

CalFresh, aka Food Stamps or EBT, can put a little extra in your pocket for buying groceries. The process is very bureaucratic, but once approved you get a card you can use like a debit card at almost all grocery stores. Get up to $250/month in free food benefits.

To qualify you must…

  • Meet income requirements
  • Be a US citizen (except if receiving SSI/SSP benefits) or a legal permanent resident
  • Be enrolled as a student at least 1/2 time
  • Work at least 20 hours a week; or be eligible for work-study; or be a parent who needs to care for your child under 12

Ways to Apply

  • Do-it-yourself at students.getcalfresh.org!
  • Go to a UC Berkeley “Group Application Session,” or request help from a CalFresh Ambassador. Book online or email calfreshsupport@berkeley.edu.

The Magic of FM

Stop paying for Spotify and give radio a try. Hear music spun by DJs in real time. Find your favorite shows and tune in weekly to see what’s new. Call into the studio to talk to a real human! Just turn on your set to feel less alone late at night – you’ll be sharing a live experience with thousands of people across the city. All the stations below are 100% independent and commercial free:

90.7 KALX – UC Berkeley Radio
94.1 KPFA – Berkeley’s famous independent leftist radio station. News, talk, and music.
89.5 KPOO – SF Black community radio
Lower Grand Radiolowergrandradio.com Oakland QTPOC-run radio (online only)
90.1 KZSU – Stanford radio
91.1 KCSM – Public jazz radio from San Mateo Community College
102.5 KXSF – SF community radio
89.7 KFJC – Strange sounds from Foothill College
88.1 KZSC – UCSC radio

Free Textbooks & Used Bookstores

Need books for class? Why spend $100s funding Jeff Bezos’ space vacation when you could get them for free!

UC Berkeley Library: Visit search.library.berkeley.edu and see if you can get it either in print or online (Pro tip for PDF e-books: you have to download one chapter at a time, and it will limit how many you can download. When you hit the limit, copy the link, shut down your browser, open a new Private window and keep going!)

Berkeley Public Library: BPL has no late fees, so you can keep the books the entire semester.
Downtown main library is near BART at 2090 Kittredge Street.

Oakland Public Library: The Rockridge branch is handy to 51B
5366 College Ave, Oakland

Alameda County Library
Albany Branch: 1247 Marin Ave

Piracy websites
Reliable, trustworthy, legally … uh… questionable(!) sources for free PDFs: Library Genesis, Z-Library. Check wikipedia for the latest links, they change from time to time due to government censorship.

Decarbonize/Decolonize

When we was in middle and high school, the ‘climate change’ talked about in textbooks and Biology classes seemed like this very complex, intractable problem. It seemed you had to be a scientist to understand exactly what was going on, and that the scientists were going to have to invent a way out of it.

The simple reality is that our entire society is based on burning. Burning coal creates power; burning petroleum moves cars and trucks. These emissions have to go somewhere. If you burnt these things in a closed room, you’d suffocate. But instead, we’re relying on our disappearing forests to create breathable air. But more forests are constantly being logged for lumber; and the amount of CO2 in the air is increasing.

If we continue at this rate, within 20 years the Earth’s air will have the same concentration of CO2 as the air inside a stuffy room today — making “a breath of fresh air” a thing of the past. We can’t allow that to happen.

Institutions like UC Berkeley put a lot of resources into studying and quantifying the ongoing ecological destruction. But only we have the power, collectively, to smash the current system. This system only connects us fleetingly through colonization, consumption, war, and profit. We have to build new kinds of connections and relationships across these lines. We have to organize to stop corporate dispossession abroad and abolish the settler state here. The survival of the world depends on the end of the one we’re living in now.

Emissions in the global North do have an outsize impact on the rest of the world, so even simple choices do make a meaningful difference. Here’s some suggestions:

Avoid Air Travel. One of the single most significant things you can do is to avoid traveling by airplane. Only 20% of the people on the planet will fly on an airplane in their lifetime. One flight generates the same amount of carbon emissions as an average person in many countries does in a year. Consider traveling by train or bus. In California, you can ride the train to LA, the Central Valley, and San Diego. It takes longer, but the difference is less when you consider the amount of time you would have spent in security and waiting for your bags. Plus, there’s comfy seats, a snack/lounge car, people to socialize with, and often free Wi-Fi.

Consume less. The Bay Area has a robust network for getting things cheap or used – see the resources in the contact list for details. Look first for used furniture, electronics, and other goods. You’ll save money and keep it local.

Understand the crisis. The different variants of COVID-19 were highly publicized during the pandemic, and we adapted our behavior accordingly. We should be paying the same attention to the different sources of emissions, and the specific gases – such as carbon dioxide and methane – which are causing climate change.

Take action! Join a forest defense! Sabotage Bezos’ rockets!

note: unfortunately an unedited version of this article was printed in the guide instead of this version – sorry!

The Haste St. Squat of 1989

In 1985, after years of mass struggle, the UC regents voted to divest $3.1 billion from companies profiting off apartheid in South Africa. Unfortunately, it was a sham, but this wasn’t discovered until after the movement had dissipated. On March 9, 1989, the Campaign Against Apartheid organized a torchlight march of about 500 people.

After the march, some students and homeless activists stormed and occupied a house at 2417 Haste St. This university-owned house had been vacant for 8 years.

Activists condemned the existence of vacant property while thousands in Berkeley were homeless. They favored direct action to reclaim it. During the week after the takeover, people worked to clean, fix up and organize the house and build political support outside.

Exactly a week after the occupation started, about 80 police officers evicted the squatters and took back the house. “It’s a crime to have that house vacant with people in the streets,” said Oscar Gutierrez, a collective member who was evicted.

The streets were filled with demonstrators after the eviction. A gay and lesbian rally was just ending nearby, and chants shifted to “What do we want? Housing! When do we want it? Now!” Hundreds gathered out front. From the Rochdale co-op across the street, people slung mud and bottles at police barricades.

By the next morning, the university had torn the building to the ground, claiming it had to destroy it in order to “save” it from the squatters.

note: the 2022-23 print version said the squat happened in 1985 – oops!