I am a proud member of the UC Berkeley Free Palestine Encampment community. I was one of many that worked day-in and day-out to sustain and organize this camp. On April 22, 2024, in solidarity with Palestine and other student encampments around the world, the UC Berkeley Divest Coalition launched its own encampment with four demands for the university, including divestment from its investments in the occupation and genocide in Palestine. On Tuesday, May 14, after over three weeks of working 24/7 to protect and grow our camp and its mission, we made the decision to disband the camp for now so that we can take the next step in our mission. But I am writing to tell you, dear reader, that if anyone tells you the UCB Free Palestine Encampment is over: that is just not true. Our encampment showed us the beginning of a new world. 

I am feeling the range of emotions that comes with building a world and then leaving it. After some conversation with a campmate of mine, Forest, they made me realize how true it is that what we built was more than an encampment: it’s an abolitionist world. I don’t think outside narratives about the encampments will focus on that, so we have to. We had neighborhoods, 24/7 medics, 24/7 security, educational programming, a library, urban planning, accessible pathways, free meals and coffee the whole day every day, healing services, mental health services, grief services, held altars and memorials, managed exiting people who committed harm, housed our unhoused community, had city infrastructure, centered prayers and religious observations, did conflict resolution at every turn, formed bonds beyond words, problem-solved at every damn corner, constantly cited the past and our peers as we made decisions, made everything up as we went along… and closed this chapter in favor of the next one. It was not just an encampment, it was a vision of a world that can be; a world built with liberation as the framework. 

On top of all the rallies, meetings, working groups, chants, protests, and movements, it was a city. A chaotic city, but the promise of a world built on abolition and liberation. Fueled entirely by people who wanted to be there and materially supplied by the love imbued in families, parents, children, faculty, peers, and elders. A community that was so fucking democratic in many ways that it drove us crazy most of the time! I know an abolitionist world is possible because I lived in one. Staring state violence right in its eyes, I lived in one. 

A couple weeks into our encampment, after the horrific ends to the solidarity encampments at Columbia and UCLA, the UC Berkeley Free Palestine Encampment became the longest-running solidarity encampment in the country, totaling over three weeks of campers protecting this camp 24/7. It’s a weighty responsibility, and that 

also meant that with each day passing, there was a new problem we had to solve. And I’ll be so real with you—I’m a bookworm who likes being inside, I’ve grown up indoors. I didn’t exactly walk into this encampment with expertise in sandbagging or knot tying or how to make concrete comfortable. There were so many questions I did not know the answers to. I say this with complete confidence, more confidence than I will have in most things, that my homeless neighbors in our encampment taught me way more about building a self-sustaining world than the university ever will. Not just the abstract philosophies behind it, but the real, on-the-ground problem-solving. One aspect of our encampment that other media outlets will not write about, but I know made us special, was our houseless neighbors. I’ll tell you straight up, this encampment would not have been able to be sustained as long and as creatively as it was without y’all. 

I remember a distinct weekend night in the camp, there was a forecast of rain and winds up to 18 miles per hour. Let’s be real: our camp was not prepared. There was a small group of about eight or nine of us that stayed up till dawn trying to secure our infrastructure, particularly the kitchen canopy and library. I won’t forget that night. I was so tired. I was nearly ready to throw in the towel for the night and just deal with the consequences in the morning. But my houseless neighbors in our little city—some folks I knew from before, some I had just met—insisted on showing me how the wind was gonna sweep up our infrastructure and it was crucial to solve this problem. Together, we spent the late night hours in weirdly high spirits securing sandbags and tarping tents in more intricate detail than I could have ever thought of. Even when I was tempted to cut corners to get a little extra sleep, my priorities to secure the camp and protect the community were revitalized by the expertise of homeless community, who are familiar with the elements of Berkeley in ways I’m just not. 

Of the many lessons we learned from the UC Berkeley Free Palestine Encampment, let one of them be the parallels between our solidarity encampment and the homeless encampments that have made Berkeley the place that it is. People’s Park, for one. More than just parallel, we are perpendicular: give the people back their home.

I am also feeling the range of emotions that comes with fighting a genocide your country funds. We did what we could at this school, but at the same time, the exact time we were having our commencement rally, the US was giving another $1 billion to Isn’treal. I am feeling hopeful, I am feeling the Intifada—I am also feeling hopeless, and feeling the irrecoverable losses. I will never again believe that it is not possible to hold space for feelings of celebration and relief while also holding feelings for anguish and exasperation. We can exhale at some responsibilities being alleviated while also holding the inarticulable weight of today (May 15—the day on which I am writing) being Nakba Day. And that it must keep cycling every day, like Banan was saying in the commencement rally. To feel so inconsequential and consequential in the same breaths. To know that it both doesn’t matter at all what I do, but it also matters more than I could ever understand.

Every one of us can list off a million reasons why this encampment was imperfect. But through and through, we all held it down. Every hand, every heart, every mind that showed up to keep building and keep problem-solving has laid an unbreakable foundation that cannot be taken away because it is deep inside of us now. I have so much love for all of you. It is only the beginning. Until Palestine is free!

Dorothy Dane was a camper at the UC Berkeley Free Palestine Encampment.