Over 200 participants met for the first meeting of Occupy Berkeley at noon today in Downtown Berkeley, where they voted to begin the occupation tonight rather than wait until next Saturday as they had originally planned.
Community members toting signs and flags as well as students from UC Berkeley and Berkeley City College gathered outside Bank of America on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street to show support for the Occupy Wall Street movement and decide through the democratic process how their own occupation would proceed.As of 8 p.m. Saturday, at least 15 protesters were planning to spend the night outside the bank.
Occupy Berkeley joins movements in Oakland, San Francisco and other cities across the country with encampments showing solidarity with Occupy Wall Street — a movement that began several weeks ago in New York City with thousands of Americans taking to the streets to protest what they see as a lack of accountability displayed by large corporations and to demand an end to corruption and government bail-outs.
UC Berkeley juniors Eden Foley and Lark Omura attended the meeting to distribute information for AgainstCuts.org. They both said they plan to participate by spreading the word about the movement in Berkeley.
According to organizers, there is no single group leading Occupy Berkeley, although those leading the discussion were mostly UC Berkeley students and graduate students. All of the Occupy Berkeley participants comprise the general assembly, which makes decisions together by discussing and voting on motions and proposals.
“We are the people, and we decide when and where to occupy as a group,” said UC Berkeley senior Elizabeth Graham.
She added that the protesters currently have the support of the Berkeley Police Department to assemble peacefully. The group plans to remain peaceful throughout the occupation.
During the course of today’s two-and-a-half hour meeting, the general assembly made three decisions: They will begin the encampment tonight instead of the following Saturday, they will remain camped outside of Bank of America for the time being and they will hold daily meetings of the general assembly at 6 p.m.
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington was present for most of the meeting to show his support for the protesters’ cause. Worthington said the organizers had applied for a permit to occupy the space for next Saturday — which is currently being processed by the city — but not for today. Still, Worthington said he does not expect any problems as a result, adding that Berkeley tends to be fairly accommodating to protests and occupations.
“I see this as the beginning of a beautiful grassroots movement built around a collective revulsion to corporate control,” Worthington said. “I hope this movement succeeds in creating demands and in energizing a new generation of activists.”
UC Berkeley senior Joseph Harder stopped by the protest to see what was happening. Harder has been interested in Occupy Wall Street and said he may participate in Occupy Berkeley on weekends.
“I see this as an analog to the Tea Party,” Harder said. “Hopefully in the next few months and years, this will radicalize the left and lead to the election of more progressive politicians.”
Protesters may eventually decide to set up a second encampment elsewhere in Berkeley if enough people join. At the moment, however, a group of occupiers will continue to camp out on the site in front of Bank of America for as long as the movement persists — which some expect to last well into the coming months.