‘We want an open space’: UC Berkeley vacates, protesters take to People’s Park

Photo of People's Park protest
Winnie Lau/Staff
Protests occurred at Sproul Plaza and People's Park to respond to campus's fencing off of the park as part of its plan to develop the land.

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Within nine hours of being placed, the fences meant to keep people out of People’s Park were torn down by protesters, who, in their place, left a barricade of trees, fences and debris to protect the park.

By 5 p.m., students, park residents and People’s Park advocates gathered on Sproul Plaza to send a message to UC Berkeley: End development on People’s Park. The protest comes after an Alameda County Superior Court judge determined that campus plans for development did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act and development commenced at around midnight on Wednesday morning.

Construction workers and officers from UCPD and California Highway Patrol, or CHP, bearing riot gear were met with protestors who staged a sit-in. While they were met with resistance, protestors successfully took down portions of the fence, and soon after, police dispersed.

“Due to the destruction of construction materials, unlawful protest activity, and violence on the part of some protesters, the University has decided to pause construction work on the People’s Park housing site,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email. “All construction personnel were withdrawn out of concern for their safety … In an effort to avoid further confrontation, law enforcement officers have also now withdrawn from the site.”

By 6 p.m., a sea of people in black, unidentifiable clothing had made its way from Sproul to People’s Park, where speeches continued.

Some, such as Stormy Adams and his mother Elisa Smith, were in the park when construction began early Wednesday morning.

“We only had seven people here at 7 a.m. and there were about 60 cops… they forced us out the door they created … I am really scared,” Adams said through tears. “They are cutting the tree my grandma planted.”

In a press advisory Wednesday, Mogulof and campus capital strategies spokesperson Kyle Gibson said only two or three unhoused people occupied the park when they arrived. They added that those who remained had previously been offered shelter, transportation and storage for belongings and told that overnight camping is not allowed.

Campus rising sophomore Izzie Porras, who lives near People’s Park, also witnessed the beginning of the construction and tried to explain to the construction workers what People’s Park meant to them.

“It was just so overwhelming … it just feels so hurtful that they were just not listening,” Porras said.

At one point, Porras had to leave for class but said “it didn’t feel like the right place to be at all.”

Though, according to Mogulof, campus is still assessing its options on how to proceed, protesters took the time absent of police presence to make their own plans.

Some called for a student strike, urging students to stop paying tuition, among other forms of student protest.

T. Reginald Sykes – the self-proclaimed longest-living resident of the park — said he has been trying to contact Congresswoman Barbara Lee in an attempt to designate People’s Park as a national historic landmark. The park had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places of more than 90,000 entries in June.

However, in a campus statement, Mogulof reiterated the importance of addressing a lack of student housing, and reaffirmed campus’s commitment to the development of the project.

Upon the end of the rally, activists asked the crowd to stay, anticipating construction would resume overnight.

As of press time, development has not resumed.

“We don’t want fences, we want an open space … a place where people can come and go,” said Aurora Smith of Earth Church, as she was surveying the remaining trees.

Anna Armstrong, Veronica Roseborough and Winnie Lau contributed to this report.

Contact Anna Armstrong, Veronica Roseborough and Winnie Lau at [email protected].