Who’s Cracking Down on Peoples in People’s Park

by Steed Dropout
July 28, 2014

Ankle-high Peoples Park Grass. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Crackdowns in People’s Park are part of its rhythm as well as its legacy.

The ankle-high grass of Berkeley’s People’s Park was recently mowed-down by university groundskeepers along with a bunch of people-park-people who got stay-away orders from university police. Park drug busts have burgeoned.

At Camp Hate, in People’s Park, Hate Man and some of his fellow campers got seven-day stay-aways. Ecclesiastes tells us: “…a time to keep and a time to throw away.” For the university it was time to throw away people’s belongings in and around Camp Hate, which over-flows to Hillegass/Dwight Way, across from two of Berkeley’s oldest churches. The churches turn its other cheeks to the campers.

Such are the seasons in People’s Park where there is a time for everything. A time for busted pot deals, a time to grow campsites, and a time for the university to throw them away.

Founders of People’s Park intended the title-word peoples to have no apostrophe–Peoples Park, for and of the people, owned by peoples, but that vision yielded to spell checkers and the realities of ownership.

Whenever the university shows up at the park for routine maintenance or for policing, peoples expect another fight from authorities on the scale of the 1969 police riots. Recently, surveyors sub-contracting with Cal were seen as a pre-invasion force. One of the surveyors told me the university was surveying a section of the 2.3 acre park to eventually repair old park plumbing.

The idea dies hard that the university will soon kick peoples out of People’s Park to make way for yet another South Side student dorm. Peoples will tell you cops have an ongoing stake-out in a university building across from the park on Haste Street. These peoples will show you where video cameras spy on them from cameras stashed around the park.

Don’t look too closely at the spy-cams. They aren’t there. But that has not ended the paranoia. Two years ago, cranes over the park in the construction of a nearby student dorm were seen as the beginning of the end of the park.

Park crackdowns are studied in Hate Camp like investors study the market. The recent crackdown was first seen as a keep-out-warning to 60 displaced homesteaders from an Albany park on the Bay, where a state park is planned. Sources close to this story tell me that the latest crackdown results from complaints about the park from a Cal vice-chancellor, who recently moved to a South Side neighborhood near the park.

A September 6 “anti-repression, concert-speak-out” in the park is being organized by Michael Delacour, 79, a peoples park founder, who has remained active in the park for almost half a century.

Vigilance is the price of peace.

These views do not reflect those of publications in which my work appears.

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