There is no easy way to begin this piece. People’s Park, a place of Berkeley’s history, is one of the few remaining green spaces on Southside and remains part of Ohlone land. It is a home to the people who reside there, and to those who have ancestral connections to it, sentimental to many longtime Bay Area residents alike.
Mirroring the once-colonial practice of Native displacement by allowing this oasis and safe space to be turned into housing for students appears to value the livelihood of students over centuries of culture. In doing so, we must also recognize those with Ohlone ancestors that populated the land long before all privatized land ownership.
However, this development is deemed necessary by many of those associated with campus because we have an undeniable housing crisis in Berkeley, for both residents of the park and students. Yes, housing and shelter is crucial for livelihood, but the treatment of currently unhoused people in order to achieve this goal needs to be a priority.
Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley spokesperson and vice chancellor of executive communications, claimed that campus “will consult and work with Native American communities on ground disturbance to any potential tribal historic resources” in communications with the Daily Cal, and also stated that campus made an attempt to reach out to local Indigenous populations. Close consultation should also be a priority, as according to campus, the dialogue is currently limited between campus officials and representatives of Indigenous communities.
In the dead of night Aug. 3, crews arrived at the park and began breaking ground and cutting down trees in this area. Additionally, those on the site and surrounding areas of People’s Park have witnessed not only overwhelming numbers of police in riot gear but also an unfortunately low morale among the protesters. What was once a fiery passion for change has transformed into sadness, discouragement and disappointment.
However with all of these rapid physical changes due to demolition of this historically treasured park, we reach the root of the issue: The culture surrounding the park is seen as disposable due to UC Berkeley’s decision to prioritize students it is deemed responsible for.
The campus should, instead, invest in maintaining the preexisting alternative housing in the Berkeley area in need of funds and making other student housing more affordable.
While People’s Park activists have been arguing these alternatives for months, we have reached a point where many activists are just — to put it plainly — feeling very defeated.
Despite insistence of the aforementioned spokesperson that a memorial will be made recognizing the Ohlone people and memorializing the park’s history, what was once tangible will now become a placard that students for generations will pay less and less attention to.
Our reality will become merely a memory, leaving behind the longtime residents of Berkeley and Ohlone heritage, who both have much more history and sentiment connected to a blade of grass at People’s Park than most students ever will.