‘History is too important’: Suitcase Clinic hosts panel discussion of People’s Park’s past, future

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Every Sunday, a group of Berkeley residents sit in the middle of People’s Park and discuss how to save the space from the planned construction by UC Berkeley. Calling themselves “the People’s Park Committee,” they dedicate their days figuring out how to mobilize 49 years after the park was built.

On Thursday night, at the Hearst Field Annex, several members of this committee discussed the history, their feelings and their plans for People’s Park. This gathering was the Suitcase Clinic’s “Thought Lounge,” where advocates and experts sat among attendees — mostly students — and explained various issues surrounding People’s Park, one of Berkeley’s historic landmarks.

The room was filled with about 25 to 30 people, with more trickling in throughout the event, and everyone sat in a circle, side by side, giving way to a very close-knit discussion.

The event was structured as a Q&A, moderated by leaders of the Suitcase Clinic Advocacy Task Force and campus seniors Lekha Patil and Jess Yang. The advocates of the park took turns explaining their point of view.

“(The Park) encapsulates a history of dissent in the early ’60s. … It was the beginning of the new left,” said Joe Liesner, a member of the committee. “I can’t let (the campus) win because that’s going to erase the history of the park. And that history is too important.”

Michael Delacour, one of the original protesters and keepers of the park in 1969, spoke about the purpose of the park’s creation.

Aidan Hill, who is running in the upcoming election to represent District 7 on City Council, also attended the meeting, chiming in with their personal experience in Berkeley and with the park.

“There’s this preservation that needs to occur because people’s souls are attached to this park,” Hill said. “It’s indigenous land — it’s not owned by anyone.”

Lisa Teague, another member of the committee, said she moved to Berkeley more recently yet immediately found friendships in the park. Describing herself as someone who suffers from PTSD and anxiety, she said she has always found peace and solace at People’s Park, even in the toughest of moments, which she believes is a core identity to the park itself: solidarity during suffering.

The group emphasized at several moments throughout the night that People’s Park is an icon around the world and “a beacon for individuality,” as Hali Hammer, a committee member, stated. They said they are still determined to save the park, so they continue to meet every Sunday for two hours and plan how to mobilize.

“In a government, where words mean nothing, we can get up on a stage where words mean something,” Hammer said, regarding People’s Park as a platform. “The park is non-insular.”

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.