Hundreds gather in Sproul Plaza in protest of UC Berkeley bake sale

Opponents of the Increase Diversity bake sale raise their fists and cheer on Upper Sproul Plaza. - Randy Adam Romero

Hundreds of students and community members convened on Upper Sproul Plaza Tuesday to protest the controversial “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” hosted by the Berkeley College Republicans, peaking in a demonstration that saw hundreds of protesters lie on their backs in front of Sproul Hall.

The bake sale, which was first announced on Facebook Thursday night, was intended to satirically protest SB 185 – affirmative action-like legislation that is currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. The time and location of the bake sale coincided with an ASUC-sponsored phone bank where students called the governor in support of the bill.

The event triggered campuswide condemnation for the campus Republicans’ group’s tiered pricing system for baked goods based on race and sex. Ultimately, the group allowed students to name their own price.

The most dramatic protest of the day began when a group of about 200 students dressed entirely in black marched from Lower Sproul Plaza to Upper Sproul Plaza at about 11:30 a.m. chanting, “It’s our duty to fight for our freedom” and “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

As the Sather Tower clock struck noon, the group of demonstrators — which introduced itself as “The Coalition” in brochures members handed out — laid down on their backs on the ground in front of Sproul Hall and were silent. Aside from a few protesters standing among the group and holding signs with messages including “Don’t UC Us” and “UC Us Now,” the only other coalition members not lying down handed out free sunscreen and cups of water to those on the ground.

Several coalition members were stationed at intervals around the perimeter of the protesting group to hand out brochures and keep passersby from walking through the lying-down crowd. These members were instructed to decline comment to the press.

Although the coalition protesters had initially planned to lie down in protest until 2 p.m., they were forced to cut their demonstration short by about one hour due to the hot weather.

Meanwhile, a group of about 20 protesters from BAMN and the Revolutionary Communist Party held signs saying “Defend the Right to Public Education for All!” and chanted “They say Jim Crow, we say hell no” right across from the bake sale table.

“They should have called it a white supremacy bake sale,” Revolution supporter Larry Everest said. “They are mocking people of color. There is nothing funny about the years of oppression faced by African-American people.”

To counter the protests, about a dozen members of the campus Republicans stood next to the bake sale table holding up signs with messages including “Read the fine print, name your own price” and “No on 185.”

The campus Republican group engaged in debate with students and community members throughout the day about affirmative action and equal opportunity.

BAMN National Organizer and Bay Area Coordinator Yvette Felarca said she had proposed to the campus Republicans’ group to schedule a formal debate between BAMN and the student group.

Shawn Lewis, president of the campus Republicans group, said he is excited about the possibility for debate, while adding a note of caution.

“I don’t want debate that will foster divisions between racial groups,” he said.

As an alternative form of protest, groups of UC Berkeley students offered free baked goods to people on Upper Sproul Plaza, among them a “Conscious Cupcake Giveaway” and another bake sale advertising free hugs as a method of opposing the Republicans’ bake sale’s implications.

“We gave away about 2,000 baked goods — now we’re giving out free hugs,” said Haley Kitchens, a third-year UC Berkeley student. “We’re arguing against the way they went about this in a discriminatory and hateful way.”

Although several policemen were present around the perimeter of Upper Sproul Plaza, no major police action was necessary during the protests.

“We really appreciate the behavior of all people involved,” said UCPD Lt. Marc DeCoulode. “Several groups reached out to us regarding their activities today, and they all showed respect for each other but still got their message out. It was a very positive experience for everyone.”

Despite the presence of protesters, the Berkeley College Republicans sold out of cupcakes and cookies. According to members of the group present at the bake sale, all proceeds will be donated to an undisclosed charity.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Larry Everest as saying “There is nothing funny about the years of oppression faced by African-American slaves.” In fact, he said “There is nothing funny about the years of oppression faced by African-American people.”