Berkeley, CA – Goodbye, city park, hello, college green.
As city officials around the country move to disband Occupy Wall Street encampments amid growing concerns over health and public safety, protesters have begun to erect more tents on college campuses.
“We are trying to get mass numbers of students out,” said Natalia Abrams, 31, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, and an organizer with Occupy Colleges, a national group coordinating college-based protesters.
Don’t miss a beat
Get the latest news and thought-provoking analysis from Truthout.
Though only a handful of colleges have encampments, tents went up last week at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and here at the University of California, Berkeley. Additionally, protesters in California have vowed to occupy dozens of other campuses in the coming days.
Last Wednesday at Berkeley, about 3,000 people gathered on Sproul Plaza to protest tuition increases, and many then set up a camp. Demonstrators linked arms to protect their tents, but police officers broke through and took down more than a dozen tents, arresting about 40 protesters.
University officials said they had watched city governments struggle to deal with expanding campsites and decided to take a stricter line: no tents, no sleeping, period.
“The present struggles with entrenched encampments in Oakland, San Francisco and New York City led us to conclude that we must uphold our policy,” the university chancellor, Robert J. Birgeneau, said in a statement.
“Our experience with these encampments is that they are never temporary,” said Claire Holmes, a university spokeswoman. “We’ve had a long-term encampment at People’s Park for 43 years.”
Over the weekend, local governments across the country moved to keep Occupy protesters from establishing that sort of tenure.
In Salt Lake City, permits that allowed people associated with the movement to camp in a downtown park, Pioneer Park, were revoked on Friday after a man was found dead. Demonstrators were given about 24 hours to clear out, according to Lt. Scott White of the Salt Lake City Police Department, before the officers moved in on Saturday night to remove those who remained. The police said that 19 people had been arrested.
The same night, protesters in Denver were forced out of their encampment, the second park they have had to leave since demonstrations began. Seventeen people were arrested, the police said.
A police crackdown at Kiener Plaza in St. Louis ended with 27 arrests on Friday night, the local police said, and The Associated Press reported that 24 people were arrested in Albany on Saturday for remaining in a state-owned park past an 11 p.m. curfew.
But protesters in Oakland, Calif., managed to outlast a threat of eviction on Saturday, defying the city’s second demand in two days that they clear out. Those calls began after a man was shot near the protest area on Thursday. On Sunday, demonstrators received a third notice from the city demanding they stop camping in city parks.
The mood in Oakland has been tense and angry since Scott Olsen, 24, an Iraq war veteran, was critically injured at a protest in October. Friends confirmed Sunday that Mr. Olsen was released from the hospital last week. Dottie Guy of Iraq Veterans Against the War told The A.P. that he can now read and write, but that he still has trouble talking.
Demonstrators in Portland, Ore., staved off eviction on Saturday with the help of hundreds of supporters who poured into two city parks near each other, Lownsdale Square and Chapman Square, and a nearby street as a midnight eviction deadline passed. About 60 people on bicycles circled the area, while drumming, dancing and juggling lent a festive air.
On Sunday, however, The A.P. reported that the number of protesters there had thinned tremendously, and that police officers in riot gear had moved in to empty the parks, surrounding protesters and shoving some of them with nightsticks. At least one officer said through a loudspeaker that anyone who resisted arrest might be “subject to chemical agents and impact weapons,” The A.P. said.
By midafternoon, the area was cleared of protesters and fenced off, while crews cleaned up debris inside. The Portland Police Department’s spokesman said that more than a dozen had been arrested.
In Berkeley, the history of encampments stretches back to 1969, when student protesters seized a plot of university land now known as People’s Park. In the violent mayhem that followed, the police shot dozens of demonstrators, killing one man.
In the decades since, efforts by the university to develop or alter the park — now used mostly by the homeless — have met with protests.
Despite that combustible history, the zero-tent policy and the campus police’s apparent willingness to enforce it with batons (as they did Wednesday), the Berkeley protesters say camping is an integral part of their strategy.
Over the weekend, members of the protest group Occupy Cal gathered tents and tarps to rebuild their camp. They have called for a general strike and a mass camp-out at all 10 University of California campuses, 23 state university campuses and 112 community college campuses, starting Tuesday.
“Encampment is one of the most powerful forms of peaceful civil disobedience,” said Marco Amaral, 20, a third-year student majoring in political science and political economics who said he was involved in the protests in part because his parents lost their Las Vegas home to foreclosure.
On campuses elsewhere, officials have been more hospitable.
At Duke University in Durham, N.C., Shreyan Sen, 19, a senior physics major, pitched his tent on a university lawn more than two weeks ago. Between classes, Mr. Sen goes to the four-tent bivouac to run teach-ins. So far, campus administrators have been very accommodating, he said.
Campuses offer amenities not available to protesters inhabiting parks, like hot showers, indoor pools and cafeterias. “We have restrooms right here, so that’s not an issue,” Mr. Sen said.
The Harvard encampment, much like the university itself, is highly exclusive. After protesters set up about 30 tents in Harvard Yard last week, university officials closed the gates to the yard, allowing only students with IDs to enter.
“Securing access to the Yard is necessary for the safety of the freshmen and others who live and work there, for the students who will be sleeping outdoors as part of the protest, and for the overall campus,” the university’s provost, Alan M. Garber, said in a statement.
Harvard protesters set up their tent city a week after a student walkout of Economics 10, an undergraduate course taught by N. Gregory Mankiw, a professor and former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.
“We think that Harvard is complicit in propagating the ideology that made the current crisis possible,” said Amanda Haziz-Ginsburg, a camper who is a student at Harvard Divinity School.
Back in Berkeley, Mr. Amaral worried that Occupy Cal would have a hard time rounding up enough tents. “It’s a hard thing to donate your tent knowing the police are going to take it,” he said.