As police filed onto a tent-covered Sproul Plaza early Thursday morning, an announcement over the loudspeaker told the Occupy Cal protesters they had five minutes to gather their belongings and leave.
Under the threat of arrest, all but two people gathered blankets and backpacks and headed toward Bancroft Way. Officers arrested the remaining two but did not take them away in the Alameda County Sheriff’s bus that had crept through Sather Gate almost unnoticed around 3:30 a.m.
Meanwhile, just across the way, in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building, Benjamin Chao kept pedaling.
Chao, a UC Berkeley freshman, was riding a stationary bicycle as part of Pi Kappa Phi’s 48-hour bike-a-thon. As a result, he and his fraternity brothers were among the few to witness the raid on the Occupy Cal encampment from the other side of the police line.
As the morning’s events unfolded, Chao, Omar Alzayat and Ryan Maples observed the situation while staying devoted to their fraternity’s cause, which sought donations for Push America — a charity that provides services for people with disabilities.
“I saw out of the corner of my eye this wall of cops come up in riot gear from Lower Sproul, and the first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, shit. Something’s about to go down,’” Chao said.
Maples, also a freshman, said the situation was tense but never so much that they would have stopped.
“(Leaving) wasn’t ever brought up. If anyone had brought it up, we would have just said to keep going since we didn’t want to ever admit that we could possibly fail,” Maples said.
Chao was less worried for himself than he was for the protesters. He had seen the viral YouTube video depicting violence at the Nov. 9 rally, and he did not want to see a repeat situation.
He said while most protesters left without argument, some expressed frustration with police.
“I was thinking, ‘Please, nobody do anything stupid,’” Chao said. “I didn’t want to see anything ugly happen there. Whenever I heard someone swear or drop the f-bomb, I was just like, ‘Come on, man. Just shhh.’”
Soon after police checked identification cards to make sure those who remained on campus were students, officers formed a line to push everyone away from the steps in front of Sproul Hall — everyone except the Pi Kappa Phi guys.
Some protesters found more reason to become agitated, asking why they could not stay on the plaza since the cyclists were still there. Others cheered the cyclists on.
And so the rest of the night went without incident. The protesters stayed in front of the police line and formed a plan for what they would do later in the day, and at 4 a.m., when their shifts were over, the three stationary cyclists left through Sather Gate.
Chao and Maples were proud to have been out there devoted to their charity efforts, but they said they appreciated being able to see how the raid on Occupy Cal unfolded.
However, the most amazing sight Chao said he saw was during the previous day, when he saw police and protesters talking to each other every now and then.
“A couple of the protesters were talking to us earlier, and they said they understand the point of view of these cops, particularly because they’re just like us, trying to stay afloat,” Chao said. “There was no animosity there. They weren’t necessarily trying to establish a relationship, but when you’re there for 48 hours, you’ve got to find at least some common ground.”