The original Occupy movement reimagined how people engaged with a space that represented an elite group that became a symbol of capitalism gone wrong. However, Occupy the Farm — a grassroots movement that began in April to protest development around UC-owned land in Albany — lacks the same ideological strength. Though protesters disagree with the university’s plans for the land, known as the Gill Tract, their concerns are not comparable to the corruption and greed on Wall Street, where the larger Occupy movement first began.
While Occupy the Farm’s intent to create an urban garden at the Gill Tract is admirable, the movement must be willing to cooperate with the campus. A garden at the tract would be a useful addition to the community and would provide worthwhile educational opportunities for UC Berkeley students and others.
But community forums about the future of the tract, which Occupy the Farm organizers initiated last week, should focus on how the space can be used in conjuction with the campus. Further occupations of the tract would not be beneficial; breaking into the tract and interfering with research there would continue to cause contention between protesters and campus officials.
Though Occupy the Farm previously refused to end its encampment in order to engage in discussions with campus officials, it must be more open moving forward. Occupy the Farm, the campus and Albany community members should work together to craft a vision for the tract that benefits all stakeholders — not only the interests of a small group of protesters.
The campus already indicated that it is still receptive to suggestions from Occupy the Farm members — Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources who was given administrative authority over the tract, said that “broad consultation is important for what the future of the Gill Tract will be.”
Yet while the campus and Occupy the Farm protesters should collaborate as much as possible regarding the Gill Tract, both parties should also take care not to allow the tract to become what People’s Park is today. Similar to protesters at the Gill Tract, activists in the 1960s and ‘70s wanted the park to be accessible to everyone. Now, though the park remains true to that principle in theory, in practice it is only used by a select group. The Gill Tract can avoid a similar fate if those who are trying to determine its future produce a sustainable solution that all groups can respect.