As mentioned in an earlier zombietime report, a ragtag group of protesters have for the last year and a half been “occupying” a small grove of oak trees near the U.C. Berkeley campus, in an attempt to prevent the university from building a new student athletic facility on the site. For unknown reasons, the university never evicted the protesters, who had taken to living in the trees themselves. That is, until today, June 17, 2008, when without warning the university began to dismantle the illegal “tree-sit.”
The eviction of the protesters and the dismantling of their treehouses and rope network began at 6:30 in the morning. This short photo essay is in no way intended to be a comprehensive document of what happened on June 17 — just one person’s perspective of a few minutes in the day-long incident, much later in the afternoon. Here, one of the tree-sit supporters expresses her opinion of either Berkeley, or (more likely, considering the red-white-and-blue color scheme) the United States.
The police had previously enclosed the oak grove in two layers of fencing, in a futile attempt to prevent supporters from delivering food to the tree-sitters. On this day, they erected a third barrier, and kept the growing crowd (estimated at about 100 people) far back from the action in the arboreal canopy above. The crowd grew hostile and began shouting insults at the police, and encouragements to the beleaguered tree-sitters.
The university brought in cherry-picker cranes, which police and arborists used to ascend to the treetops where they tore down the treehouses and, whenever possible, performed mid-air arrests of trapped tree-sitters. The crowd was kept so far back that we were not really able to get a good view of the action.
Predictably, some communists showed up and stationed themselves at the front, occasionally taunting the police in Spanish. Note the hard-hats the cops are wearing — they were forced to put them on because earlier in the day the tree-sitters were pelting the police with human feces and bits of garbage. Luckily, I missed that part.
The communists eventually gave up displaying their banner to the police, and laid it on the ground.
The crowd was frustrated but powerless. Mostly people just milled around, occasionally crying or sobbing, and then suddenly shouting in outrage when one of the tree-sitters in the distance let out a scream or a howl for some reason, which they did every few minutes or so.
Living in the trees, throwing feces at predators, howling in fear — was I witnessing de-evolution in action? Could humankind return to the trees?
But not everyone was in tears over the day’s events. A group of student athletes and other tree-sit opponents watched the action from a much better vantage point in Memorial Stadium, and cheered wildly whenever a part of a treehouse tumbled to the ground.
The police at ground level just stood there impassively.
The protesters had chalked on the ground their opinion of the police and other evil University of California authority figures: “Beyond Satan.”
This interesting sigil caught my eye: a combination of the peace symbol and the anarchism symbol — along with three mysterious short lines (which, in hobo code, mean “This is not a safe place”).
At one point, a college-age girl decided to lie down in the street. I thought — Oooh, a die-in is brewing, this could get interesting.
But after several minutes no one had joined her. So I went over and asked her, “Are you trying to start a die-in, or just sunbathing in the street?” She replied, “I feel it’s important to be in touch with the ground at this time. Perhaps someone will bring me some food.”
And on that disorienting note, I went on my merry way.