Demonstrators remain resolute in Occupy Berkeley protest

Rashad Sisemore/Staff
Occupy Berkeley protesters setting up tents in Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park in early October.

Ghostchaser, silver hair flowing from her rhinestone-adorned black cap, took long sips of her coffee while sitting among cardboard signs and sleeping bags in front of the Bank of America in Downtown Berkeley Monday morning.

She does not get much sleep anymore since she has to worry about thieves breaking in to the truck in which she lives and police forcing her to leave, but she has made her way Downtown every day for a little more than a week in order to support the Occupy Berkeley movement.

“I’ve been coming here since day one, and I’m going to keep coming as long as I can unless they put me in jail,” she said.

Occupy Berkeley began Oct. 8 when demonstrators decided to start occupying the circular courtyard outside of Bank of America a week earlier than originally planned.

Saturday marked the “International Day of Action” organized by Occupy Wall Street — intended to peacefully protest economic inequality in this country — and since, Occupy Berkeley demonstrators have remained resolute in their occupations, which have now also extended to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

However, despite their unified goal, demonstrators have different reasons for continuing to stay and camp out.

In 2009, Ghostchaser was renting the garage in a house near the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Gilman Street, but the house was foreclosed on and its inhabitants were evicted.  Since then, she has had to drive her home around Berkeley to avoid attracting attention that could get her into trouble.

“Whenever I go online, I always see ads about refinancing my home,” she said. “That’s how we got in this mess. I want to help educate people so they know what the big banks are doing.”

While Ghostchaser was still getting her day started, UC Berkeley junior Zoe Golz greeted passers-by at Occupy Berkeley’s information table at the park as her pet rat, Noodle, ran across her shoulders.

Golz said she was inspired to improve social justice after taking an anthropology course with UC Berkeley professor Laura Nader but felt powerless to do anything to affect change.

She stayed in the park for the first time Sunday night and said she plans to spend as much time as she can at the camp while completing her school work, playing in the Cal Band and working 20 hours a week.  She also said she intends to stay there beyond the end of semester.

“When I heard about Occupy Berkeley two weeks ago, I dove in head first since it gave me a chance to make a difference,” Golz said. “I live in Berkeley, so I’m going to stick with it until our goals are accomplished.”

Although several students devoted time to occupying the park, Golz noted that the overall lack of student participation could stem from seeing too many other protests in the city but said it is more likely the result of not having the time to devote to the movement.

“They want to work hard so they don’t end up homeless,” Golz said. “You have to make sacrifices to do something like this, and a lot of students aren’t in a position to do that.”

Bo-Peter Laanen, UC Berkeley junior and one of the organizers of Occupy Berkeley’s general assembly meetings, said he is committed to the movement even though he has not been negatively affected by the economy.

“I have a job and an apartment,” he said. “The reason I’m out here is to help make it so everyone has a fair chance.  Greedy companies can ship jobs off overseas, but we still need jobs here. It feels like the right thing to do.”

Laanen asked the community for supply donations via Occupy Berkeley’s Facebook page, and an hour later UC Berkeley African American studies professor Leigh Raiford brought the requested items to the park.

“I support the movement wholeheartedly,” Raiford said. “I’m worried about sending my kids to college. I almost took a job at Stanford because they give tuition breaks to the children of faculty and staff.”

Laanen said that the group’s next step is developing and expanding its campsites to accommodate more people and protect from the rain.

Berkeley Police Department Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said in an email that BPD “will be periodically monitoring the group to insure community and public safety.”

Laaanen added that even though the movement is often criticized for lacking organization, it makes progress because its members all have the same goal.

“We’re not a leaderless movement,” Laanen said. “We’re a movement of leaders.”