Occupy Cal moves ahead despite UC Berkeley administration’s warnings

A demonstrator sits in front of Sproul Hall as protesters set up tents.
Tony Zhou/Staff
A demonstrator sits in front of Sproul Hall as protesters set up tents.

On Monday, the UC Berkeley administration sent an email to students stating that setting up any encampments on campus property would not be tolerated.

But when Occupy Cal protesters voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to pitch tents on the lawns outside of Sproul Hall despite the warning, clashes with police ensued — the exact result campus officials had said they hoped to avoid.

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“I think we’re all fighting for the same causes,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande. “We appreciate your concern about the economy and inequality in our country.”

But when Le Grande followed his expression of sympathy with a warning that police would be called if protesters set up an encampment on campus property, the response was vehement. He proposed that protesters remain on site 24/7 for a week as long they avoided setting up tents or sleeping on-site. Protesters responded by chanting “bullshit” as he finished speaking.

The protesters’ opposition to the administration’s proposal came after several violent interactions between demonstrators and police on the UC Berkeley campus since 2009, the most recent of which occurred when protesters and police clashed Sept. 22 in Tolman Hall.

According to the campus Student Code of Conduct, “camping or lodging on University property other than in authorized facilities” is prohibited.

But protesters showed little regard for the code of conduct and Le Grande’s warning, and they voted overwhelmingly to reject the administration’s proposal, instead potentially facing police action.

Occupy Cal organizer Amanda Armstrong, a campus head steward for UAW Local 2865 — a union representing graduate student instructors — said the proposal was simply a reiteration of what administrators had already told protesters prior to the encampment.

“I don’t think there is anything in the proposal that is a compromise,” she said. “Fundamentally, the issue is whether we could establish an encampment, and (the administration and police) are committed to (stopping) that.”

Although campus Dean of Social Sciences Carla Hesse said she understood the protesters’ reasons for being upset, she urged students to consider their actions carefully. She spoke to students directly on Upper Sproul Plaza during the afternoon hours of the protest.

“I’d like them to think about what they’re doing,” she said. “I’m worried if they destroy property, the public isn’t going to be very sympathetic.”

UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya said protesters made a conscious decision to obstruct officers during the afternoon clash with police.

“The officers have a duty,” he said. “They’re in a difficult position.”

Alex Poska, a protester involved in the March Wheeler Hall occupation, said the administration’s stated opinion was irrelevant. He said their ultimate decision was made by their actions against protesters.

“Their actions indicate that they don’t want to support an Occupy movement,” he said. “We’re in a battle.”

Although dozens of protesters stayed at the encampment late into the evening, police forced their way through the line of protesters using batons at around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and confiscated the group’s tents.

Student organizer and UC Berkeley junior Marco Amaral said he would stay at the campus encampment as long as it takes for administrators to make a change to the system.

“The Occupy movement has arrived,” he said. “This is beautiful.”