Saturday, September 15, 2007
Protest of the Tree Dwellers
There are people living in the old oak trees on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.According to the New York Times, protesters took to the trees in December 2006, hoping to forestall the construction of a $125 million athletic center, which would require that the university demolish the venerable oak grove. The university has not remained unresponsive to the protest, installing a chain link fence on 29 August 2007, and seeking a court order to eject the protesters, on grounds of health and safety threats. Unfortunately for the university, the fence has aroused widespread support for the protesters throughout the community, with supporters gathering to throw food and other supplies over to the beleaguered advocates.(Save the Oak Grove Mini Documentary courtesy of YouTube)
Activists say the university cannot knock down trees older than the community of Berkeley. University officials say their new athletic center must be near their football stadium. The City Council says the site slated for building is unsafe, due to its proximity to a seismic fault. Conservative bloggers say the "hippies" just don't like football, and the change will be good for the university. ("Instead of smelly hippies and fulminating Marxists, images of celebrating frat boys, cute and sexy cheerleaders, and heroic athletes dominate media mentions of Berkeley," writes Thomas Lifson of the American Thinker blog.)
Despite criticism, the community of Berkeley has largely rallied around the activists. “This is remarkably unified,” said protester Zachary Running Wolf. “You’ve got the affluent people living in the hills, who normally wouldn’t mix with the food-not-bombs people or the anarchists or the Native Americans or the environmentalists. It’s pretty wild.”
Meanwhile, the conflict continues. The university's case against the protesters will be heard in Alameda County Superior Court on 1 October 2007, after the City Council has brought its suit on 19 and 20 September. Are the "hippies" being unreasonable? Is the university being unsensitive to the environmental and historical value of the trees? Or are the protesters fighting a losing battle in the changing social atmosphere of Berkeley? The courts will decide, but in the meantime, the activists remain in their trees.