3rd day of Wheeler Hall occupation continues amid debate about movement’s future

Ariel D. Hayat/File

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On Friday, activists camped out in Wheeler Hall for the third day of an occupation in protest of tuition increases, deliberating the short-term future of the movement and its public image.

The occupiers gathered for a general assembly at noon that spanned more than three hours of breakout groups and community proposals. In a unanimous decision, those present at the assembly ultimately voted to continue occupying Wheeler and made plans for a rally through Sproul Plaza on Monday, along with a march through Berkeley that same day, which is expected to culminate in a blockade of California Hall on Tuesday morning.

The occupation began just before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, after a vote from a UC Board of Regents committee to move forward with a controversial tuition increase policy.

So far, the campus has not evicted individuals or enforced Wheeler’s hours of operation. Although the building was technically closed at 10 p.m. Thursday, UCPD officers did not take action to shut the encampment down. According to UCPD spokesperson Lt. Marc DeCoulode, officers plan solely to monitor the occupation, as long as it remains peaceful.

But Thursday night, police expressed questions about the “peacefulness” of the demonstrations after graffiti was discovered that night on multiple floors of the building. Graffiti on the ground floor of Wheeler read, “From Mexico to Berkeley, let the fires burn,” and “Fuck the UC Regents” was spray-painted in black on the third floor. Individuals also discovered graffiti on the back of a chair in Wheeler Auditorium with messages such as “Kill Napolitano.”

By Friday morning, however, demonstrators had used signs and pieces of cardboard to cover up the graffiti.

The graffiti sparked concerns about the occupation’s public image. At a meeting held to discuss potential responses, some suggested writing a public apology condemning the actions and debated whether the language and sentiment would send a negative message to the public.

The protesters also moved to rename the space from Occupy Wheeler to the Wheeler Commons. A press release from activists in Wheeler Hall referred to a “symbolic reclamation of higher education” that led to the building’s renaming after some cited concerns that using the language of an occupation might symbolize colonialism.

Protesters plan to stay in the common space through the weekend to make signs and art and will continue to formalize plans for Monday’s planned walkout and other action.

Check back for updates.

Katy Abbott covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @katyeabbott.