Organizers and demonstrators with Berkeley Copwatch and the Defend People’s Park Movement gathered Wednesday for a rally, march and barbeque at People’s Park to protest development on the land.
The demonstrators first met at Civic Center Park for a rally with guest speakers before marching one mile to People’s Park. They marched with a sign that read “Defend People’s Park.”
According to Andrea Pritchett, a founding member of Berkeley Copwatch and a longtime defender of People’s Park, the protestors not only gathered to protest the university’s student housing development project on People’s Park, but also to celebrate a couple of recent victories.
Pritchett said one of these victories was the designation of People’s Park as a nationally significant place. People’s Park was entered into the National Register of Historic Places for its protests and counterculture activity during the 1960s.
“We hope that that gives people pause to really notice a beautiful history, an incredible legacy and a movement that defined the national and international profile of this city,” Pritchett said. “To bulldoze it represents the continuation of the struggle that began in 1969.”
Harvey Smith, a member of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group — the group that first applied the land for the national registry — said he believes the university should meet its “responsibility for student housing.” However, he said he is against the university building it on a national historic site with a long legacy.
According to Smith, the university has other options that they could build on as an alternative to building on People’s Park. Smith added that the university could build on the Ellsworth parking structure, which he said was identified as being seismically unsafe.
“We are facing climate change, so why destroy a park when they have an option just over a block away?” Smith said.
After the demonstrators arrived at People’s Park, additional guest speakers took the stage, followed by live music and a barbeque.
Among the guest speakers was a visiting scholar in the African American studies department — Paul Lee. Lee spoke about the importance of the park throughout history, dating back to 1969.
Lee said in his speech that young people have effectively “dismantled Jim Crow segregation” in the South, along with Jane Crow segregation in the North. He added that people have created spaces for LGBTQ+ people to be themselves and ended apartheid in South Africa.
Lee called on the crowd of people to use the “momentum” of all of the people who came before and continue the ongoing struggle.
“Do not see yourselves as alone or as isolated or as powerless,” Lee said in his speech. “Recognize that behind you is a river of struggle.”