Okay, so it’s Berkeley, not a stranger to protests, but this week’s tree shenanigans both play to the historic hippies-in-dreads protest image as well as highlight the era of strapped campuses cracking down on activism in the name of growth.
In case you haven’t heard, UC Berkeley students and city residents have been living in oak trees on campus for the past 10 months, protesting their razing for the building of a new sports complex.
This week the protests have elevated to arrests, and even construction. Wednesday, campus police put up an 8-foot chain-link fence meant to both keep protesters inside the grove as well as to prevent conflicts when 72,000 people descend on the area for tomorrow’s Cal football game against Tennessee.
The sitters are now going it alone. No one can give them food or water, and once they leave the fenced area they are not allowed to return. This morning, one protester was arrested after putting his arm around a police officer and touching him with a lavender incense wand. “Why is he being arrested?” asked a student. “Battery,” the officer replied.
The $125 million sports complex will replace the seismically shaky (and already-cracked) Memorial Stadium, and it will also allow the cash-strapped university to bring in big name recruits, football and otherwise, which can translate into millions a year in revenue. This year Cal is ranked #12 in the nation going into the college football season, something that will bring the university millions in television revenue alone.
Really though, Cal has bigger worries than tree sitters. The city has sued the school to halt construction because the new complex will rest squarely where the old stadium does, on the Hayward Fault. And when it comes to earthquakes, my money’s on the oak trees to be left standing.