Bradley Penner inside People’s Park, January 5, 2024. (Bradley Penner)

I’m thinking of a place, one I remember vividly. I am barefoot, grass in the folds of my toes, sundrunk, effervescent. There’s a handful of loose change in my pocket, my cut of the morning’s busking session in front of Café Intermezzo. A chorus of chatter emanates from the perimeter of the Free Speech stage, Sierra cups brimming with free vegan soup, as a litany of voices sway in a dance with our rolled cigarette smoke before evaporating into the hot August air. The day lingers on, the sun inches closer toward Telegraph’s horizon, and well before dusk we pick up our backpacks to head into the hills. 

From a dusty, carved out shelf just above the Clark Kerr Campus, trampled over time by the travelers who had found sleep there before me, I watch the sun dip behind the Transamerica Pyramid, then the tallest building in the city, and stretch a small tarp over the ground. This was my first home in Berkeley, hidden away in the boot of the hills, on land self-endowed to the landless.

But this place I am thinking of, sewn tight in the fabric of my memory, has been sequestered in a campaign of erasure. On January 5, 2024, just 36 hours after the University of California took People’s Park by force, I was allowed media access behind the shipping containers as the new Editor-in-Chief of Street Spirit. Contractors poured concrete piers for 20-foot-tall gate posts as I took photographs, stepping carefully through the muddied imprints of tractors. Coils of electrical wire had been staged alongside the clustered heaps of lumber and tree branches that had been felled the morning before. Fifty-five years of history had been razed overnight, and as memories flooded through my mind, settling in the walls of my throat, I sat on the stage where we used to wait for Food Not Bombs and wept. 

Pulling myself together, I found an opening between shipping containers and walked down Bowditch Street toward the barricades. A group of CHP officers confiscated my media badge, stating if I planned to return I would need to coordinate with the UC. It was at this moment I realized my walk through People’s Park would most likely be its last—that I was, by luck or happenstance, one of the last people bestowed with an opportunity to witness, document, and grieve this place before it was insulated behind a border of steel. I felt both grateful and guilty as I removed the lanyard from my neck, looking back one last time toward the opening I had just exited, but my view was now fully obstructed. The final steel panels were being welded to the corners of shipping containers, and just like that, in the span of a moment, People’s Park was gone.

For me, leaving a place behind often makes me want to turn around—to look back, to mourn what once was, to crystallize a place and its people into pillars of salt. But in the days following the shutdown of the park—as the community gathered along Telegraph night after night, as the People’s Free Store began distributing food, warm clothing, and other supplies, as ad hoc punk shows spilled out from the sidewalks and into the street—I realized that place is the communal solidarity, energy, and care that brought it to life to begin with. That the possibilities of place are not beholden to space itself. The closure of People’s Park empowered the very nature of place, of communal presence, to spill out into the streets. The paths we’ve forged together moved west down Dwight and Haste, and as we redefine what “place” is for our communities, we’re guided by the experiences, lessons, and histories that have brought us all here in the first place. 

In 2008, at the height hitchhiked away from the remnants of home with a backpack and guitar. Subprime mortgages were in default nationwide, industries stood on the brink of collapse under the weight of corporate stranglehold. My father, a project manager in building supply who had only recently acquired custody of me, had been laid off from his employee-owned company. I earned $8 an hour making sandwiches. We barely made the rent each month, drowned our anxieties in alcohol, and as designed, held no thumb on the scales.

My story is not unique. Our already splintered family, hanging on by mended stitches of thread, unraveled completely under the pressure of the recession. The economy trickled down into the undercurrents of personal life, and I—newly eighteen, fractured and alone, steeped in the unprocessed anguish of a traumatic childhood—sought an alternative way to subsist. I bought an army issue backpack for $10, salvaged a sleeping bag from storage and, in lieu of a scale, put my thumb to the asphalt, ending up in the Southside neighborhood of Berkeley, California. 

At the time, Berkeley—as a city, as a place—felt like refuge to me. I was cared for in these streets. Mutual aid like food, medicines, and clothing were readily available throughout Southside. I sold loose copies of Street Spirit out of my guitar case for extra cash, often pausing my busking routine to chat with passersby, whether students, tourists, or fellow travelers. People’s Park served as the foundation of my movement through this place, and as I look back on those formative years of my life, I recognize just how much of an impact it had in cultivating my understanding of community here in the Bay Area. An understanding of communal worth, of giving voice, of belonging and collective power.

But from where we stand now—as containers crowned with razor wire fortify our parks, as long-standing businesses shutter under the pressure of inflated rents and competition with same-day delivery services, as working class families squeeze into smaller dwellings or leave altogether to settle in adjacent counties, as legislation seeks to criminalize our right to dwell let alone exist within the commons—the technocratic pervasion of urban life has ushered us into an era of erasure, one that wilfully distracts, distances, and isolates us from one another.

Arguably, erasure is a fixture of any moment or era of modern history—the act of rendering places, populations, and perspectives invisible, if not extinct. But here in the East Bay, we find ourselves in a unique position to both honor and expand upon the legacy of place within our communities, or moreover, what those places could become when the community works together. 

The rebirth of Street Spirit is a perfect example of the generative growth of legacy in an era of erasure. The paper you are holding in your hands was 100% funded by community donations, from members of the community who see and feel the value in our mission, our values, our commitment and grit. You, reading this paper, which you purchased from a Street Spirit vendor somewhere on the streets of the Bay Area, are participating in place at this very moment. It’s with this in mind that we carry the torch of Street Spirit into a new era, remembering the people and places that have come to pass, and regardless of vantage point—whether the hills or flats, house or tent—we set our sights on the horizon.

Moving forward, we will continue to honor what has come before us while we fight like hell for our futures. We all stand at a pivotal moment in history, but together, and on the tip of the spear. Because we take care of us, community in itself is “place,” and where community goes, to whatever space that might be, place will ultimately follow.

Bradley Penner is the Editor and Lead Reporter of Street Spirit.