‘Here because I am mad’: Community activists protest UC Board of Regents

photo of protestors holding signs
Samantha Lim/Senior Staff
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, protestors of the Coalition for a Truly Public UC protested the redevelopment of People's Park and 1921 Walnut St.

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The Coalition for a Truly Public UC gathered in downtown Oakland at 8 a.m. Wednesday to protest the UC Board of Regents, including its recent vote on campus’s plans to redevelop People’s Park and 1921 Walnut St.

Composed of various UC Berkeley and community organizations, the coalition congregated outside of the UC Office of the President with a written statement listing its demands. During the protest, speakers from groups involved with the coalition spoke on issues they wished to address, with a table for people who wished to write letters to the regents.

“I’m here because I’m fed up with higher education like the University of California pretending they’re for the people and that they do good,” said Laurel Halvorson, campus alumna and activist for People’s Park. “I’m here because I’m mad. My dreams of this university were crushed when I saw how they treat people.”

In its statement, the coalition demanded a “truly public” higher education system governed through a democratic process; a rejection of UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan, which allegedly involves the demolition of People’s Park and 1921 Walnut St. and the demilitarization of campus police forces across the UC system.

They also demanded a stop to the “privatization” and “devaluation” of the university’s labor and an end to the university’s affiliations with — and participation in — “colonial and imperial projects,” according to the coalition statement.

“The UC is right now trying to build an 18-story telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, which is one of the most sacred spaces for Native Hawaiians,” said speakers from the campus activist organization Mauna Kea Protectors during the protest. “Mauna Kea stands at the intersection of so many different struggles that we’re invested in and need to be invested in so as to protect the land, to protect the sacred.”

During their speech, organizers from Mauna Kea Protectors noted that the university had already invested more than $60 million in the project. According to the speakers, despite the requests of the island’s Indigenous people, the university had decided to move forward with the telescope, threatening sacred and Indigenous land.

Throughout the protest, other organizers and speakers also presented their grievances to the community members and students in attendance. 

“I’m here today because ultimately this university was founded as a colonial force,” alleged Amanda Hill, campus ASUC senator-elect and organizer with People’s Park. “They claim to denounce that history, but what we’re seeing, what links these causes together, from Mauna Kea to People’s Park to Walnut St., is an exertion of the colonial forces of the university.”

Hill said in their speech that many of the movements that made Berkeley a landmark location for activism, including the Free Speech movement and the beginning of the Black Panthers, surrounded “the fight for People’s Park.”

They noted that aside from its historical relevance, the park itself is also home to some of the city’s most marginalized people. According to Hill, the residents there face eviction threats from the “largest landlord in the state of California.”

“It’s so easy to protect our park and our landmarks while making sure students are housed,” said Carol Denney, Berkeley resident and campus alumna. “I’d love to be proud of my school, but it’s hard.”

Speakers from POOR Magazine also participated in the demonstration, demanding that the university return land, resources and “stolen ancestors” back to the Indigenous people.

They added that the university must provide reparations for the “cultural theft and cultural appropriation of disabled Black and Brown and Indigenous bodies,” and that People’s Park must be left to the self-governance of its residents.

“As we stand here on these occupied streets, in front of these occupiers, we are very clear that every single thing this institution teaches is a continuation and a perpetration of the very system that enables it,” speakers from POOR Magazine alleged during the protest.

Organizers from AFSCME Local 3299, the UC system’s largest employee union, were also present at the coalition’s gathering, discussing the outsourcing of university labor and the underpaying of workers that occurs as a result, according to the union’s speakers.

They noted the importance of active participation in the movement for labor protection and emphasized students’ role in fighting against university policies that allegedly harm workers and university employees.

As part of the coalition, Katie Latimer, organizer from UC Cops Off Campus, also spoke to the assembled crowd, touching on the history of university police and its presence at UC Berkeley. Latimer noted that many of the issues that were discussed during the protest were connected and added that UCPD could be tied to processes including privatization and gentrification. 

“It’s important to talk in detail with each other and ask questions about how all of these issues are connected,” Latimer said during the protest. “Campus policing is, in many ways, a reaction to uprisings of the people.”

Samantha Lim is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @sssamanthalim.