The greatest accomplishments often flourish from the smallest, most radical beginnings. A continued protest on University of California research land in Albany presents an opportune moment for productive change in the local community.
Occupy demonstrators set up an encampment Sunday on a UC Berkeley-administered research plot in Albany known as the Gill Tract. Some of the occupiers stand to protest the construction of a Whole Foods supermarket, a senior housing facility and a parking lot on the land, while others remain in an attempt to reclaim the land for use as an urban farm. Although the protesters’ disregard for research is troublesome, their objective to establish a community farming project on the land is an admirable and attainable goal.
If the occupiers can bring forth a plan to the UC Berkeley administration that would provide for a viable and truly sustainable local farm on the Gill Tract, the campus should seriously consider working with movement leaders to make it happen. Such a project would not be an unreasonable use for the land and could provide a continued educational experience for UC Berkeley students and community members alike. However, the onus for success is laid first upon the occupying demonstrators and then on administrators to meet them halfway.
Leaders from the Bay Area locavore and urban farming community ought to lend themselves to the Gill Tract occupiers’ efforts. Indeed, the region is a focal point for the food justice movement. It is natural for prominent food activist leaders to converge and help try to make the dream of a farm on UC land in Albany a lasting reality.
But in order for such efforts to succeed, the occupation must focus around a vision. Yes, Whole Foods’ business model, which entails selling healthful foods for exorbitant prices, is regrettable. But occupying the Gill Tract is not going to stop the supermarket from being erected — especially because the occupation is not taking place on land where any new construction will occur.
Moreover, though the damage was already done to some research, protesters should refrain from disrupting any more of the campus’s biotech and farming projects there. The Gill Tract occupation presents a unique case wherein a real, productive conclusion to demonstration is realistic. When controversies over a Panda Express in the Bear’s Lair Food Court were in the news years ago, naysayers insisted a locally focused grocery store would never materialize. Now, the Berkeley Student Food Collective stands across from the campus’ Southside. Neither UC Berkeley nor the occupiers should squander this opportunity to make another impossible idea possible.