By Michelle Locke
The Associated Press
A Monday rally at UC Berkeley opened up a generation gap as graying veterans of the battle to create People’s Park were largely ignored by 20-something students eating and chatting in front of the main administration building.
Speakers exhorted students to take a stand for posterity.
“Vote to stand up to the corrupt corporate powers that have taken over this university. Vote to keep People’s Park a park,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Dona Spring.
But some seemed unconvinced.
“People’s Park – well, it represents something right now, I guess, but I think housing would make a lot more people happy,” said sophomore Steve Chinn.
The counterculture field of dreams known as People’s Park is again the subject of debate as UC students vote this week on whether the land should be a preserve for housing or history.
At issue is a nonbinding proposition on the student government slate that asks, “Do you think the People’s Park area should remain a park as opposed to having (the university) explore alternative uses for the space/land?”
Although the vote is purely advisory, its symbolic value is being watched closely.
Community activists are rallying to support the park, created on April 20, 1969, when hundreds of people showed up with shovels and sod, transforming the nearly 3-acre space from a muddy parking lot into a green space.
“It’s one of the only places that is common land on some level and so there’s a lot of people that are involved in it,” says a woman who tends flowers in the park and goes by the name Terri Compost.
But many students shun the university-owned space a block or two from campus; it has become a hangout for the homeless and drug-users in recent years.
“I’m all for preserving People’s Park, but it also should be cleaned up a bit,” said sophomore Kevin De Liban, who was campaigning for a spot in student government from the comfort of a chair in the sunny expanse of Sproul Plaza Monday.
De Liban said he doesn’t want to chase anyone out of the park, but students should be made to feel comfortable, too. “I don’t really feel safe going into People’s Park.”
People’s Park began in 1967, when the university bought and bulldozed a line of apartment houses but delayed doing anything with the land. A month after activists turned the resulting rutted land into a park, the university struck back, putting up a line of chain link fences that set off a riot that left one man dead.
In 1972, antiwar demonstrators tore down the fence and the idea of a park “for the people” was revived.
The student government member who put the proposition on the ballot did not make a public appearance at the rally and did not return telephone calls Monday to The Associated Press. He has said he is mainly interested in giving students a place to state their opinions on People’s Park.
“It’s only meant to give students a place in the decision-making process,” Sabet told the Daily Planet last week.
“The initiative is not meant to be any sort of ‘anti’ or ‘pro’ People’s Park tool.”
Over the years, the university has occasionally tried to assert its property rights to the land, only to retreat in the face of vigorous protest.
UC Berkeley spokeswoman Marie Felde said officials have no plans to make any major changes at the park, but they’re watching the measure, as a way to “better understand student sentiment.”
Votes are being cast today through Thursday as part of the regular student government elections.
Park supporter Compost, who refused to give her real name, said students need to look back on battles fought before they were born.
“It has a lot of history and it has a lot of sweat,” she said, “a lot of our work and our dreams.”
Daily Planet staff contributed to this report.