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The truth about university's referendum on People's Park

John Tanghe
Monday April 03, 2000

It is sad that it seems that the ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California) now wants to follow in the not-so-proud recent tradition of statewide ballot initiatives. With the upcoming People’s Park referendum, the ASUC, or at least some faction within it, is manipulating simple words with supposed good intentions to dupe voters into supporting a sinister motive (a la Proposition 209, 21, 22, etc.). 

The apparently benign referendum asks, “Do you think the People’s Park area should remain a park as opposed to having UCB explore alternative uses for the space/land?” 

Seems simple enough, right? But what is really going on here? I know that the student body is highly intelligent. So let’s ask some questions in search of the truth. 

The first question all of us good learned students should ask is what does the phrase “alternative uses” mean? It could be anything. For example, the University presently uses portions of its land for such controversial activities as: nuclear research (and whatever else they do up in those hills), military training, research on animals, genetic engineering, and shady partnerships with soul-less corporations and the prison industry. 

Now most folks are going to latch onto the current housing crisis hysteria and think “alternative uses” must mean building a dorm for students. But if that was the case, why doesn’t it say so? Could it be because the University has consistently stated that they lack the necessary funds to build more student housing? Though ironically enough they do have the funds to destroy part of the Albany Village student housing complex. And even if they did have the funds, why would they build housing on the only open space with grass in the Southside area, when there are numerous other vacant lots, including many parking lots that could be converted to dorms with underground parking facilities (think Underhill!)? 

It is more likely that in the University’s eyes “alternative uses” would mean what they’ve always wanted to do (and have done on occasion). That is bulldozing the Park and making it into another one of their exclusive parking lots at the expense of everyone. 

The fact is the very existence of People’s Park just pisses certain people off and they just happen to have a lot of power. They can’t handle the fact that there’s a piece of land in this city that they don’t control. And this student referendum, with all its rhetoric of being “non-binding,” is just the first lob in a new battle in what seems like a never-ending war against the Park. They think that they can utilize the current climate of student ignorance to get what they have always wanted. 

By using the word “ignorance,” I do not mean to disparage the intelligence of the student body. I merely mean to refer to the present dearth of knowledge about the Park that has been fostered by the University. Again it is ironic that a University would embed such ignorance in its students. 

Why is it that very few students know the incredible/tumultuous ongoing story of the Park? A working class neighborhood where Allen Ginsberg and friends used to frolic. The University’s use of eminent domain to destroy that neighborhood. The resulting muddy unused lot being converted into a Park by the community on its own initiative. The destruction of that Park by the University, followed by Police and National Guard occupation of the city, including the use of live ammunition on demonstrators and observers. A helicopter indiscriminately spraying tear gas on a peaceful rally and the city at large. A prior ASUC referendum where the Park won by a landslide. The Park persevering. Free food. Music. Swings and slides. Trees. Gardens. The People’s Café. The Free Box. Volleyball courts that were forced upon the public by the University and thus never used, but cost the public $2 million. Thousands of arrests. Martial law on numerous occasions. Hundreds of injuries. And sadly two human beings killed at the hands of police officers. 

How many students have even spent time in the Park? Lounged on the grass and enjoyed the sun? Utilized the Free Speech stage? Played some ball? Threw a Frisbee? Just sat and talked with a stranger? Planted flowers? Ate nourishing free food? Again, I’d bet very few. 

Could this be because the University sends a police officer to warn every new student at Orientation about the “dangers” of People’s Park? That the UCPD releases constant propaganda about the supposed “criminal element” in the Park? That the UCPD patrols the Park relentlessly as if it was a war zone (Next time the class you want is not offered or you can’t connect to the Internet due to lack of funding, go to the Park for a while and observe how much of our money is being wasted on such an unnecessary police presence). When in reality by their own statistics there’s been more violent crime this year in Underhill Parking Lot than in the Park (Go to Sproul and look at their map if you don’t believe me.). 

Now, I am not trying to say that People’s Park is some utopia, it does have its problems. However, as we all know most of Berkeley (and this world) has its problems. And if instead of being scared away, more people were involved with the Park, we could help it grow into a much better place. 

If the ASUC really wanted to discover the students’ opinion, why didn’t they host an open forum or issue a comprehensive survey? Instead, they allowed a senator to put a vague question on the ballot without implementing any opportunities for students to become informed or express their concerns on such a complicated issue. In addition, this referendum totally ignores the non-student community, which makes up the majority of the city and users of the Park. The only way that the powers-that-be can ever be stopped is when students and non-students work together as a community to control their own destiny. Remember the Park is the only large area of grass and open space on Southside and that it is presently available to anyone to use. Again this referendum is about duplicity, not attaining any sort of concrete consensus. 

Therefore I urge everyone to use this attack as an opportunity to become informed. Learn the history and the issues. Talk to others. Go to the Park. Form your own educated opinion. If you do so, I am certain that on April 11-13 students won’t be fooled and will vote YES for People’s Park. And maybe we can all finally work together to make the Park what it was always meant to be. A place where anyone can enjoy some open space, do what they want, and escape the drudgery of modern urban life! 


John Tanghe is a Boalt Hall student and a 1998 Cal alum.