Carol Denney is a writer, poet, and musician who lives in the East Bay.
On May 8th, 1978, Associate Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Ted Chenoweth signed a “Letter of Agreement” assuring People’s Park’s
At 4 a.m. on December 28, the University of California cut down 40 trees in People’s Park, arguing that they endangered public safety, or at least blocked the light. The “long-deferred maintenance”, as a UC Berkeley statement describes it, was initiated without any warning to neighbors, park supporters, and community members. In the weeks since, the University’s demolition of the trees has continued—as of the end of January, they have cut down at least 42 trees.
It’s simple. Public sidewalks are too crowded for homeless people, but wide enough for waddling robots and monolithic, data-sucking electronic sidewalk billboards with 65-inch screens. Public sidewalks are dangerously over-filled with backpacks and bedrolls but have a sad aura of being deserted without unpermitted signboards, tables, chairs, and rolling racks of commercial merchandise.
People’s Park is a landmark. The university doesn’t like to mention it, but it became a city landmark in 1984 “for its historic and cultural importance to the City of Berkeley.” The landmark designation is not necessarily protective, but it’s worth noting in a community being trained to ignore its own significant moments in history.
Dr. Phil, the affable problem-solving TV host, has a catch phrase he uses when defensive participants exhaust themselves telling him and the TV audience why they do things the way they do. He listens patiently. And then he says, “How’s that working for you?”
Berkeley officials are serious when they insist that their downtown look like Disneyland. The signs and tables of businesses are not targeted for removal the way poor people are. Politicians want you to support more taxes without addressing the lopsided use of police resources against the poor.
When I called, they gave me the whole “this stuff doesn’t really matter” treatment. I asked them how, in a world in which the Berkeley City Council had just restricted sidewalk use for the poor, this was in any way possible — except in the most cynical of kleptocracies.
The DBA launched a new poster destruction policy, despite being warned it was unconstitutional by the City Attorney. Tearing down fliers is a textbook example of a free speech violation. No one has the right to make content-based distinctions about what is allowed to be posted or said in legal, public places.
SNCC members in the Bay Area are capable of telling their stories of personal sacrifice and nonviolent organizing — undeniably one of the greatest American stories ever told. Their insights into nonviolence can be shared with those who wonder what might be more powerful than makeshift shields from Home Depot.
The anti-panhandling law, the anti-sitting law, the two-square-feet-of-possessions-only law, and the proposal to equip the smoke-free downtown with ashtrays have one thing in common: the Downtown Berkeley Association. This unelected group was given a free hand in crafting contradictory and unconstitutional legislation.