Community reacts to Occupy Cal and Chancellor’s response

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau:

Your recent “Message to Campus Community” avows solidarity with students regarding their anger about the steady public “disinvestment in public higher education.” Nevertheless, you explain that you have necessarily enacted a “no encampment” policy.

Students neglected to ask permission and failed to abide by your rules of engagement. You express your “regret that the campus police were forced to use their batons to enforce the policy.” Your police captain opines that “linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.” This Orwellian thinking makes the mind reel: Arm linking and tent pitching is violent and club wielding is peace keeping.

An earlier occupation converted university property into People’s Park. University police overreacted, injuring many and killing one: James Rector.

The campus now has Mario Savio Steps and a Free Speech Cafe. How ironic! Campus plaques declare that students are entering the “property of the UC Regents.” Student occupiers are not bamboozled. They know their property rights and are teaching the most important lessons on campus.

Unlike the Penn State community, we will not turn our heads or be silenced when we witness our young people being violated and abused by a most odious machine.

— George Killingsworth, Berkeley resident

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Dear Chancellor,

You have spoken several times about what makes Cal special. Two of which are Cal’s Peace Corps leadership and the campus’s commitment to values such as excellence, fairness and justice.

After I graduated in 2007, I served with the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa for over three years. I worked in agriculture and community development. Living and working with Senegalese farmers, I helped implement President Obama’s “Feed the Future” initiative. An agribusiness I helped launch during my service is now working with over 400 women farms in 25 communities and is expanding.

The education and preparation I received at Cal was a key determinant in my success in the Peace Corps. Today I work for a USAID-funded project that improves the quality and performance of public health institutions in the developing world. Everyday, I practice what I learned at Cal and use my experiences from the Peace Corps to guide my approach to working with counterparts who are citizens of developing nations.

I was disgusted to see the video of the UCPD beating students on Nov. 9. Your letter to the campus blaming the victims and justifying this crime of violence casts a poor light on Berkeley’s principles and values. It shows an amazing lack of wisdom and common decency for you to accuse the Cal students of not engaging in non-violent protest. I am terribly offended by your commentary and the actions of UCPD. They cast a dark light on Berkeley’s legacy and standing in the world.

I am active in the Cal Alumni Club of Washington, D.C. Every Cal alumni member I have talked to is concerned by this issue. It not only reflects poorly on UC Berkeley as an institution but also on those who have attended and studied there.

The police actions and your lack of leadership and responsibility are inimical to the values I learned at Cal.

With full sincerity, and in the great tradition of Cal, I call on you and the UCPD police chief to resign immediately.

— Nathan Danielsen, UC Berkeley ’07

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Along with many others, I watched in shock as riot police twice responded with violent force to Nov. 9’s peaceful protest on the lawn next to Sproul Hall.

Had he been physically present at the demonstration, I somewhat doubt that Chancellor Birgeneau would have had the stomach to condone the violence against students, faculty and staff exercising free speech. Perhaps it should be his policy to attend future protests in person before authorizing the use of riot police, a response that effectively guarantees the acts of violence against members of the Cal community.

— Ethan Lavine, masters candidate in city planning at UC Berkeley

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An Open Letter to Chancellor Birgeneau,

Your recent letter to the campus community rings false. You attempt to justify a violent response to a peaceful assembly as a practical matter of your inability to manage the “hygiene, safety, space and conflict issues that emerge when an encampment takes hold and the more intransigent individuals gain control.”

The administration has the ability to manage the militarization of our campus with busloads of armed and poorly trained riot control officers from agencies all over the bay area, but can’t manage to figure out how to allow people to go to the bathroom?

Your administration’s actions continue to embarrass and shame the entire campus.

Ultimately you justify your response by saying you were merely upholding a policy. But you fail to justify a policy that interferes with the rights of the entire campus community to peacefully assemble and their right to free speech.

— Andrew Galpern, graduate student researcher at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

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