The People’s Park Committee held a rally at UC Berkeley on Thursday to protest potential university plans to build housing on People’s Park.
The rally, sponsored by Students Against Fascism and War and endorsed by the Cloyne Student Co-operative Council, drew a crowd of about 40 to the Mario Savio steps, where speakers rallied in favor of saving the park.
“(The park is a) national monument to the free speech and anti-war movements,” said activist and speaker Lisa Teague at the rally. “(It’s) actually a remembrance of those movements, the living ideal of those movements.”
The university acquired the land that is today People’s Park in 1968 with the intent of building student housing on it. These plans fell through because of a lack of funds, and the land remained vacant for several months.
In April 1969, members of the Berkeley community came together to convert the land into a park. For some, the endeavor represented a grassroots effort to create a place for free speech and community gathering.
Michael Delacour, who helped found People’s Park and spoke at the rally, recalled bringing sod to make the park. He also remembered participating in the anti-war rallies that occurred there.
Delacour and others gathered for the rally in response to a letter from Chancellor Carol Christ to UC Berkeley alumni that was published in the Summer 2018 issue of California Magazine.
“Whatever one thinks of the ideals that motivated the creation of the park, it is hard to see the park today as embodying those ideals,” Christ said in the letter. “It is equally hard to determine who the people are that benefit from the park in its current form.”
As a result, Christ said she has decided that People’s Park will be the first university-owned parcel of land to be developed into student housing, as part of the university’s goal to double the number of beds for students.
This decision continues to be met with resistance.
“I’m almost 81. … If they take (the park) away, God, will it kill me,” Delacour said.
Since the People’s Park Committee is not a student organization, in order to host the rally on Sproul Plaza, the committee was sponsored by campus group Students Against Fascism and War.
The group chose to sponsor the rally because it views campus efforts to build on People’s Park as an attempt to “pave over and destroy history,” according to Adam Ziegler, founder of Students Against Fascism and War. He added that he came to Berkeley because of its history and the community built atop it.
“The spirit of this community is not going away, and they will bring it to this piece of land, whether you build on it or not,” said event moderator Ed Monroe.