Encampments sticking point between protesters and administration

David Herschorn/Staff
David Herschorn/Staff

After the tumult of Wednesday’s demonstrations, Occupy Cal protesters and the UC Berkeley administration, though willing to negotiate with one another, are in a stalemate over campus policy.

Shane Boyle, campus head steward of UAW Local 2865 and an organizer, said he and other demonstrators remained open to negotiation with UC Berkeley administration — except on the issue of setting up encampments on campus.

“There’s something that just can’t be negotiated on, and that’s the encampment’s existence,” Boyle said. “We’d be happy to talk and negotiate about a whole host of other things.”

The General Assembly refused the UC Berkeley administration’s offer to allow them to stay on Sproul Plaza, though they would not be permitted to set up tents, bring sleeping bags, start fires, cook or sleep.

“If we set up a tent and slept outside, we would be arrested,” he said. “It wasn’t a proposal at all. It was an ultimatum, and that’s why we refused.”

However, the UC Berkeley administration was firm in its stance of prohibiting encampments on campus. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau sent an email to the campus community Thursday afternoon further explaining the administration’s reasoning for forbidding encampments.

“This decision is largely governed by practical, not philosophical, considerations,” the email states. “We are not equipped to manage the hygiene, safety, space and conflict issues that emerge when an encampment takes hold and the more intransigent individuals gain control.”

Janet Gilmore, campus spokesperson, reiterated in an email the campus’s policy against encampments, citing previous problems and concerns of escalation once encampments take hold.

“We have a long history with encampments and occupations,” Gilmore said in the email. “That experience has shown us how a single tent or small occupation can quickly grow in number and continue for many days, weeks. The tree sitters near Memorial Stadium are the most recent example on campus. In addition, we have watched what has happened in Oakland and San Francisco with Occupy encampments in those locations.”

The Occupy Cal protesters, according to Boyle, said the protesters have yet to come up with a list of their demands.

“We haven’t been able to formulate any demands,” Boyle said. “Demands are part of the discussion of the General Assembly. Unfortunately, before we were able to hold that meeting, police attacked the encampment.”

However, he said that there were a number of ideas being discussed, such as calling for a reversal of all fee hikes in the past 10 years and reversing the “privatization of the UC.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the National Lawyers Guild sent a letter to Birgeneau and UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya requesting various documents under the California Public Records Act. Linda Lye, staff attorney at the union, said she was concerned about the violent nature of Wednesday’s protest but hopes that the union’s request will provide a level of transparency and accountability for what happened.

“The legal standard is what is reasonable under the circumstances,” Lye said. “We have grave concerns about the images we saw when we saw people hit in the stomach with a baton.”

Under legal requirement, UCPD has 10 days to respond to the union and guild’s request for the documents.