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People’s Park: A Park That ‘Symbolizes Freedom’ and a Home for Many

The Struggle for Space Continues

A crowd gathers at People's Park for the 'Save People's Park' event in Berkeley, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021./All Photos by Cheyenne Tex

By Camila Ceja

A hundred students and Berkeley community members gathered on Friday, Jan. 29 to protest the construction and fencing of People’s Park by UC Berkeley.

Immediately after announcing the plans for campus residency construction, UC Berkeley fenced off one third of people’s park on Jan. 19, 2021. Later on Jan. 22, the University brought in more equipment, claiming to be collecting soil samples. Berkeley city community members and UC Berkeley students began to seek action as the newly fenced and surveillance camera armed park no longer represented a safe space. Concerns began to rise even more, as the houseless folx that seek shelter at the park no longer felt safe.

A crowd members hold a sign that says 'Save People's Park' at the 'Save People's Park' event in Berkeley, Calif. on Friday, Jan 26, 2021.

A brief history of People’s Park

Since its creation, People’s Park has been a place for community unity and reclamation against the land-increasing university. On April 16, 1969, a small group in Berkeley put out a call for a communal space for celebration and positivity in an issue of the Berkeley Garb, an underground newspaper. As the park has been a land sought by the city and university for taking, People’s Park has been attacked by an environment of strict and violent policing.

Weeks of campus and city negotiations insured. Yet, the park was met by 300 police in riot gear on May 15, 1969. “Bloody Thursday” resulted in the death of a bystander and the wounding of countless people.

In the following years until today, Berkeley community members have fought to protect the park from the city and university’s taking. In 1991, the UC called upon eight different police departments to oversee the construction of a volleyball court.

Today, the park is a center for uniting the community in Berkeley, and a home for the many that struggle to obtain permanent residency. As the years passed, the park began to be planted, filled with art, and transformed into a safe space.

What has caused public concern?

With public concern, a flyer for a call to action was circulated on instagram via @peoplesparkberkeley. On Friday, Jan. 29, at exactly 3:00 pm, a crowd gathered around the fences and the stage was filled with speakers. Berkeley residents called upon their many memories surrounding the park and students exclaimed that fellow students and transplants should support the Berkeley community. One speaker was Roosevelt Steven, a co founder of People’s Park.

To Steven and many the park “symbolizes freedom,” a space that truly marked and continues to mark a home for many.

One speaker encouraged the need for direct and immediate action. This resulted in the fences being knocked down at 4:00 p.m. Following the taking down of the fences, protesters carried many of the fence sections down Telegraph and onto Sproul shouting, “Who’s Park? Our Park!” Though no campus police interfered with the action, UCPD cars were surrounding nearby and overseeing the event. The following morning, trucks were seen taking away the leftover fencing.

Crowd members carried pieces of the fencing from People's Park and piled them up on the steps of the UC Berkeley building Sproul Hall in Berkeley, Calif. on Friday, Jan 26, 2021.

The fight to protect People’s Park continues, as the university is set on constructing a housing facility. On Feb. 2, the fencing was once again built on a section of the park. Community members, students and People’s Park residents have continued to meet in action to work to protect the park from the unwanted building. Zoom meetings and in-person meetings continue to happen every week.

A crowd member at the 'Save People's Park' event hangs a sign on the fence at People's Park in Berkeley, Calif. on Jan. 26, 2021.

This article is a follow-up to a previous post we made. Check out that post here: 'Save People's Park' Protesters Speak Out Against UC Berkeley's Student Housing Plan.

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