Here are a few of the people we encountered in the Park on a recent day.
How do you use the Park?
I cook for Food not Bombs on Tuesdays at First Presbyterian in Oakland. Serves food every Tuesday at 3 o’clock in Peoples’ Park. The full meal is rice and beans, green vegetables, green salad fruit salad and scrumptious desserts.
I don’t come here often because I live far from the park. I volunteer to cook and serve food. We cook in Oakland and then truck it over to Berkeley. I drive the truck.
Do you know about the history of the park?
As a matter of fact, not a lot. Although I was a student at Cal in the 60’s, I don’t remember the Park very much I wasn’t terribly political.
How do you use the park?
I serve meals with Food Not Bombs.
[Right now I’m] making take home containers in case people come late. We compost the rest ‘cause we don’t want rats to come. The university is on our case. They don’t like us.
Why doesn’t the university like Food Not Bombs at People’s Park?
The university thinks this is their property.
What’s your goal for the park?
My goals for the land are for people to congregate here like it’s their living room. And we could come and serve here five days a week. Anybody who wants could come work with us and volunteer. They could go to our webpage East Bay Food not Bombs to volunteer with cooking and serving.
“Like the hippie singer.”
How often do you come to the park?
I’ve been here since the 27th of December. I’ve been committed to the Park since they started cutting down trees.
How do you use the park?
Right now I’m a tree defender.
What does that mean?
I’m an eco-freak. I’ve got earth first tattooed on my right arm.
So trees come before your life?
This tree? Yeah. You ain’t cutting it down without killing me.
Why is it so important to you?
Because there’s ravens squirrels and they all live here. There’s lots of different pigeons and birds and beautiful flowers and I don’t want to see this place get wrecked.
My ancestors stood and practically built this place. My father’s circle, my mother’s circle.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’ve lived in Humboldt the last 17 years. I’m originally a New Yorker.
I also am a comedian. I try to come up with new funnies every day. I’ve been doing comedy since I was about 14. I’ve [also] been living outside on and off since I was 14.
I’ve got a joke for you. How many blondes does it take to change a lightbulb?
How many blondes?
None. They call the plumber.
Pen name: T Reginal Sykes
Why is the park important to you?
You can call it a reference point. Everybody who has ever lived on the streets knows that this is a place that is kind of like a comfort zone. Whereas for others it’s a meeting place, a place to congregate, a place to share political views too. There’s a lot of reasons.
I myself I was just born right down the street, so it’s like home away from home for me. This park has a place in American history, though. We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of this place.
At that point you can start declaring historical values and historical landmarks, after 50 years. And this is one of the things I’d really like to see happen. Without this place there would be no open space here. There aren’t too many parks around here. But it’s always been political football. The Park has been used [as a political tool] on both sides of the aisle.
Both sides of the aisle?
Yeah. Let’s just say between the two main political parties, Republican and Democrat. You know I started coming here mid 80’s. It’s always been used as a political tool. Those who want it shut down and those who don’t. Lately it’s hard to tell who’s who.
This place has always been a hotbed of politics, since the 60’s. A part of the Civil Rights Movement started right here in People’s Park. At the same time you had Haight Ashbury, you also had Black Panther Party. It all came together at once.
The political significance of this place is important but it’s overshadowed by all the unsavory elements. But it’s also home. I escape from here as much as I can. But a lot of people see it that way, as a home. It’s a comfort zone.
Is there anything else you want to say about the Park?
You can find a lot of different things to be interested in here at People’s Park.
For instance, how we have so many different varieties of plant life that aren’t native here. I’ve been told there are some species and birds that are not just native to this area. Sometimes you can see a falcon, a couple of hawks. It’s interesting to watch them feed. The redwood trees here. Each one of them has a different style of animal nesting. So yeah, you can find a lot.
I’ve taken a lot of great photographs here. See people doing artwork. One person I remember started at the stage and did different parts of the landscape all from that perspective and he had different paintings. You have a lot of different artists come and collide. A lot of different views. It’s fun that way, too.
A lot of creativity here. But sometimes that creativity is lost to people trying to survive. I am one of them.
One of the people trying to survive?
Having to be here just to survive. I’ve been there. There was once upon a time where I had to be here to survive cause there was no other way. People live off donations and charitable gifts so I see a lot of that, too.
All photos by Emma Estrada.
Emma Estrada is a writer who lives in Los Angeles and a UC Berkeley graduate.