A park by and for the people

CITY AFFAIRS: Fifty years after protest against developing People’s Park first erupted, campus should halt housing plans

Illustration of two groups of people, one in black-and-white, tearing down fences in People's Park, representing protests past and present
Jericho Tang/Staff

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“Nothing so flimsy as a fence can stand up to the will of the community.”

These were the words of The Daily Californian editorial board in May 1971. It recalled demonstrations two years prior in opposition to plans to develop People’s Park — a historic day known as “Bloody Thursday” — and called on the Berkeley community to once again resist appropriation of the land by the university. 

Fifty years later, these words remain salient. Just two weeks ago, a group of students and community members gathered in People’s Park to uproot chain-link fences walling off a section of the park. Protestors carried the fences to campus, piling them defiantly and ceremoniously at the foot of the Mario Savio Steps. 

To be sure, circumstances are different now in more ways than one. 

In 1967, UC Berkeley held the goal of developing People’s Park solely for university use. Today, the specter of direct state violence has receded. And with homelessness reaching record levels in California, the proposed project incorporates supportive housing that would provide housing and services for formerly unhoused folks.

But no matter the plans proposed by campus, developing People’s Park will go against the wishes of the individuals who frequent the park, as well as those who cherish the space People’s Park provides. While the crowds two weeks ago were certainly smaller than in 1969 and 1971 — and paper fliers spreading the word were replaced by social media posts — a familiar air of solidarity and protest filled Berkeley’s ways.

The Daily Cal can act as a powerful voice for the Berkeley community. In 1971, we called for protest. Today, we fear we were too quick to concede

Recent rhetoric around campus has made it seem as though this development is a surety. Quite the contrary: The project has yet to receive final environmental, project or design approval. It is by no means a done deal.

And so, with that, the Daily Cal will once again stand with the community in calling for a halt to the development of People’s Park.

While the importance of supportive housing in Berkeley cannot be discounted, People’s Park — built for and by Berkeleyans — has never been, and never will be, a place for campus to do its bidding. The park should remain at the will of those who have the most stake in its future.

We stand by our statement that campus should preserve the park’s legacy as an open community space and haven for activism and free speech. And that means taking proper care to maintain a site — one with historic, symbolic, recreational and practical significance to the Berkeley community — that’s often been neglected. 

In reference to defending the park, the Daily Cal wrote in 1971, “The community did it once, we can do it again.”

In the 50 interceding years, exchanges between campus and protestors have continued, and those defending People’s Park have prevailed every time. 

Why should today be any different? 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.