A group of 10 or more students gran hold of a piece of fencing which has been torn to the ground. They stand in a green, grassy People's Park.

Cal students and community members tear down a fence that UC Berkeley had erected at People’s Park ahead of their plan to build housing there next year. (Adamu Chan)

On Friday January 29, a group of UC Berkeley students joined forces with the People’s Park Committee to hold a rally at the park to protest the housing UC Berkeley plans to build there. The rally, which was initially an open mic, culminated in an unexpected action: A group of 100-some students and community members tore down the fencing that had recently been erected at the park so that the University could sample the soil before beginning construction. The late-January protest felt like something straight out of 1969—the year that people reclaimed the empty lot at Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way and planted a park through grassroots organizing and direct action. As students filed into the park on the sunny Friday afternoon, Lisa Teague—a member of the People’s Park Committee—said she was pleased with the turnout. 

“We were hoping for a good turnout but then people just kept coming, so we set up our speakers and microphones and had kind of an open mic,” said Teague. Students gave speeches, calling attention to how the University’s relationship to the park is at odds with its radical legacy. Residents of the park and community members spoke as well, followed by Michael Delacour, one of the lead organizers to reclaim the park 52 years ago.“What are we trying to do, take down this fence?” Michael Delacour, 83, asked the crowd. He was met with cheers. “Looking at the fence, we have the numbers here,” he said. “You guys can decide what to do.”

“Whose Park? Our Park!”

In an instant, students started tearing down the fencing. 

“It was an oddly coordinated spontaneous moment, because some people started saying ‘where do we take the fence?’ and someone said, ‘to Carol Christ’s house!’ and someone else said, ‘No! We take it to Sproul!’” Just like that, students picked up each piece of fencing that had been torn to the ground and marching them down Telegraph Avenue, chanting, “Whose Park? Our Park!”

Pieces of fencing piled on the steps outside of Sproul Hall. A sign that reads "Students for People's Park" hangs on the fencing.
The fencing students tore down at People’s Park on the stairway leading up to Sproul Hall, UC Berkeley’s main administrative building. (Lisa Teague)

The fencing was left at the doorstep of Sproul Hall—UC Berkeley’s main administrative building—with a sign that said “Students for People’s Park” on top of it.

Teague says there has been no discernable police presence or response so far, though they are wary that something may take place in the coming days. “They have, you know, almost 52 years of responding, so we’re kind of on high alert,” they said.

The late-January protest marks an uptick in student engagement at People’s Park. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, students have been more involved with the park—and the effort to thwart the impending housing project, which is set to break ground in 2022. Residents of Cloyne Court and Casa Zimbabwe—two UC Berkeley co-ops—have started regularly cooking meals that are distributed at the park. And a growing number of students are attending the People’s Park Committee’s weekly Zoom meetings. 

“I think is an amazing thing. Because that’s what will save us, honestly. A robust student-led movement,” Teague said. “[The University] is more accountable to the students than to the People’s Park Committee.” 

If you would like to join the People’s Park Committee’s weekly Zoom calls, check their social media channels on Sunday mornings to find the link. Meetings take place every Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

If you would like to sign up to receive text alerts about the fight to save People’s Park, text “SAVE THE PARK” to 74121.

A hand painted sign reads "Flowers are the root of all good." The sunlight casts an elegant shadow on the sign.
A sign at the park reads “flowers are the root of all good.” (Adamu Chan)
A bunch of fencing lays on the ground in the grass after having been torn down. It lays in the grass around a trashcan that somebody has painted a peace sign onto.

Pieces of the fence lay on the ground at the park before protestors marched them to the UC Berkeley campus. (Adamu Chan)

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.