People's Park Timeline
A park is born, and the flame burns eternal!
1868: settler colonization
The place now known as berkeley is xučyun territory, the home of the Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people.
The university of california was created as a settler institution, started by colonists who came west with visions of Manifest Destiny and profit.
UC was founded in 1868 and would be granted huge swaths of stolen land. While 85% of indigenous people in california were wiped out by genocide, the violence and displacement was in the interest of many trustees who looked eagerly towards the profits that could be made from the sale of these lands and the opening of new pacific markets.
UC was created to serve these Anglo settlers.
1960s: the big land grab gets bigger
In the 1960s, berkeley became a center of youth counterculture and social movements – the Third World Liberation Front, the Black Panther Party, and many more. These movements had broad support and were connected globally and locally. The university was at its most robust as a public institution – serving thousands of students of color, veterans, and students of all ages. The amerikan government, along with their cronies the UC regents and administrators, sought to thwart transformative activity on their campuses and in their area by any means necessary.
UC forced a majority Black high school to relocate, so it would be further away from campus and Telegraph Avenue. They deployed police up and down the blocks to harass people on the street.
The block that is now People’s Park (between Haste/Dwight) was affordable housing and known as a place where a “culture of resistance” lived. These buildings were a key center of the Telegraph Ave scene, and UC sought to eradicate them through urban renewal schemes.
The University suddenly announced it wanted to purchase all 30 buildings on the entire block. Houses were seized through from the people who didn’t want to sell. After promising not to kick students out during finals, they give everyone a 3-day notice in December 1967 and moved to evict.
Bulldozers arrive in February 1968 and begin immediate demolition of the residences. But the university ran out of development funds, leaving the lot only partially cleared of demolition debris and rubble for 14 months. The muddy site became a quasi parking lot derelict with abandoned cars.
1969: the park is born!
“A park will be built this Sunday”
A few people begin to discuss how this vacant lot could be put to better use.
In April 1969, a call was put out in the Berkeley Barb newspaper to come on Sunday and create the park! “Bring shovels, hoses, chains, grass, paints, flowers, trees, bull dozers, top soil, colorful smiles, laughter and lots of sweat.” On 4/20 the park was born, with over 100 people showing up to create it!
Each weekend, as negotiations flew between the university (who wanted to destroy the park) and the park creators (who had the broad support of the town), people came out to work and play.
The Military Occupation of Berkeley
On May 15, 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan lashed out with fascist energy by sending CHP in to fence off the park and destroy some of what had been created. Throughout the morning, thousands of people began to coalesce at a rally and spontaneously decided to take back the park from the pigs.
They marched to the park and faced off against the cops in a violent confrontation – police fired tear gas, beat up and arrested hundreds of people, and fired lethal buckshot at protesters. These shots killed a man named James Rector, who was just a bystander. 128 people went to the hospital with police-inflicted injuries. This day is known as “Bloody Thursday.”
On May 20, 1969, Reagan called in the National Guard to reassert control over the park. The guard flew helicopters over the Berkeley campus with airborne tear gas. Winds dispersed over the entire city, sending school children miles away to hospitals. This is one of the largest deployments of tear gas on amerikan citizens. The Black Panther newspaper noted: “The chemical that they used, is the same kind of chemical that the U.S. Imperialists are using against the Vietnamese people.”
Berkeley residents were fed up. 30,000 people marched across the city in support of the park on May 30, 1969.
Video: park creation and defense
1970s: the park is liberated
The university still had the empty park fenced off, having changed their supposed plan from building housing to building a soccer field there.
In early May 1972, a candlelight march was hastily called in Ho Chi-Minh Park to respond to Nixon’s latest acts of war. Starting with only 200-300 people, it grew to thousands as they marched through Berkeley. That night, people tore down the fence with their bare hands. A police car was overturned and burned. Skirmishing with police lasted into the morning hours. But at last, the park was liberated!
In 1979 the university tried to convert an area of the park which had been free parking into paid parking. In fall 1979 an occupation of the west end began, that continued uninterrupted throughout December 1979. Park volunteers tore up the asphalt and heaped it up as barricades next to the sidewalks along Dwight Way and Haste Street. The parking lot was abolished and turned into the community garden on the west end of the park today.
1990s: the park is defended
In the spring of 1991, the university released plans to redevelop People’s Park. It was an incremental plan bent on destroying the park, beginning with the construction of volleyball courts. The City Council and other bureaucrats quickly caved and backed the project.
A new wave of organizing began, with the rallying slogan “Defend the Park,” which was shared in coordinated solidarity with organizers against gentrification and displacing poor and unhoused people at Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side of New York City. Identical “Defend the Park” stickers sprouted across Berkeley and NYC!
Emergency committees were established. Nightly vigils and open meetings were held each night in the summer of 1991. As a UC construction team arrived in July 1991, hundreds of protesters gathered to prevent the bulldozer from breaking ground.
Protests grew each day, and police escalated to shooting wood pellets and rubber bullets at demonstrators. The Examiner later reported the total cost to UC of installing one sand volleyball court to be $1 million. UC reportedly paid individuals $15 per hour to play volleyball in order to make the courts appear to be in use, with round-the-clock police supervision.
On December 15, 1991, the Daily Californian reported that “an unidentified vandal used a chainsaw to cut down the central wooden post of the volleyball court. UC quietly gave up on the whole project.
2018-present: it’s up to us
In 2018 on the verge of the 50th anniversary, UC cut down 42 trees without warning or consideration, greatly diminishing a once-thriving urban forest.
The university released plans to build housing on the park, and in early 2021 put up fences to collect soil samples for their architectural plans.
In response, hundreds of people, mostly students, tore down the fences UC put up on the park to conduct seismic testing, and carried them down Telegraph Avenue. They were deposited on the front steps of Sproul Hall.
A 24-hour occupation of the park began shortly thereafter to prevent more soil testing.
Demands of the Defense Camp
- End Capital Strategies development in People’s Park
- Respect the autonomy of park residents
- UCB must communicate transparently with park residents
- Defund UCPD by 50% with the intention of abolition
- No riot gear, firearms or weapons
- Expand social and health services at the park and support it as a center for mutual aid
On October 29, 2021, the California State Historical Resources Commission voted unanimously to list People’s Park in the National Register of Historic Places at the national level of significance.
This article is adapted from “A People’s History of uc berkeley!”
1) eminent domain
Eminent domain is when the state forcibly takes over land.