It has been a year and a half since the Memorial Stadium oak trees—now part UC Berkeley protest fame—have had to call a new kind of longhaired species resident. Perched on limbs, sitting on the sidewalk or frequenting the I-House Café, protestors continue to sit even though student support is clearly on the wane. As an athlete at UC Berkeley, I probably spend more time inside cracked and unsafe walls of Memorial Stadium than any other lecture hall, coffee house, or library on campus. The oak grove is part of my campus, and if I have learned nothing else from Berkeley’s history, I have learned that if someone is doing something I do not agree with, it is my turn—my responsibility—to stand up and have myself be heard.
So now I have to say: enough is enough. I cannot continue to watch the last protestors, the headstrong will-latch-on-to-any-cause transients, concoct the herbal aromas they blow in our direction. Why do I care so much? Before you laugh and call me “just another jock” and skip to the next op-ed, let me make my case. I am not just another athlete who wants better and safer facilities to play on. However, let’s take a moment for that argument. The stadium is our place of business: Our performance is our job and let the cliché stand: we leave our blood, sweat, tears and hearts on the field and in those walls. Just as a professor can teach anywhere, they still want the best environment they can have. Why? Because you elevate yourself to the standards around you. As a member of Memorial Stadium athletics, I think the number of elite athletes who are expected to train at the highest possible level within the small confines of the stadium is ridiculous. However, this is not my central case.
As a student in the College of Natural Resources, I was perplexed by the university’s actions concerning the oak grove. Yet, as more pressing environmental issues have come to the fore, I do not understand why the protesters have not moved on. My case against the tree-sitters is far deeper than an athlete’s need for a high-performance facility.
First of all, I fundamentally disagree with the practices of the “Save the Oaks” campaign. The protestors have already destroyed the 100-year-old grove by constructing tree forts and ropes courses, but more importantly, these extremists are tainting the name of all environmentalists, including myself, in Berkeley. Berkeley is one the front lines of a growing environmentally conscious social movement and it is not fair that the “tree people” are ruining our chances to be taken seriously.
What other issues? More than ever, newspapers have begun to take a stand on the current food crisis our world is facing. Researchers are now suggesting that struggling farmers should sell their land to the government to provide room for further scientific research into biofuels. But how is that fair for a farmer who has already had to compromise his or her ethical beliefs when they were all but forced to shift to monoculture practices, or to literally sell the farm to big business. Plainly stated, the world is in a state of crisis and Berkeley is wasting its media attention on people in trees. Environmentalist or not, the support here in Berkeley needs to be focused. One of the best, and simplest, ways to make a difference is with an option like urban gardening or agroecology, developed by Berkeley’s Miguel Altieri. Agroecology is an agricultural farming technique takes farmers away from fertilizers and pesticides in honor of cultivating a sustainable system to protect the environment. If we are thinking in idealistic terms, what if all the tree sitter’s media attention could have instead been diverted to the efforts of Altieri’s agroecology?
The tree-sitters have succeeded, but only in making Memorial Stadium a tourist site; from an environmental standpoint, the tree sitters have effectively destroyed the oaks. The current students of UC Berkeley hold within them the success of our environment’s future. As a student body we are collectively striving to make a change. If you strolled through Sproul Plaza during Earth Week last week and you would have seen that Berkeley is at the forefront of a burgeoning social movement fighting for a sustainable way of life. The students are standing while the tree sitters sit, and it’s easy to see that the time for change is now. Whether or not you support UC Berkeley athletics, it is every individual’s responsibility to be the change we wish to see.
Tighe Hutchins is a student athlete at UC Berkeley.