On the university seal, at Sather Gate and on every other UC branded item, the motto “Let there be light” is paired with an open book and the five-pointed university star that emanates rays of light representing the discovery and sharing of knowledge. On UC’s website one can view the following: “Principles of community for the University of California, Berkeley, are rooted in our mission of teaching, research and public service. They reflect our passion for critical inquiry, debate, discovery and innovation, and our deep commitment to contributing to a better world. Every member of the UC Berkeley community has a role in sustaining a safe, caring and humane environment in which these values can thrive. We place honesty and integrity in our teaching, learning, research and administration at the highest level.” Also highlighted on UC Berkeley’s website are the university’s fundamental missions, which are teaching, research and public service.
How does this all play out in relation to the predomination of a battle by a university against a community standing for protection of an oak grove?
How can a university feed a one sided pitch to alumni, students and sports fans against a community trying to do the right thing—as in enforce its Oak Moratorium Ordinance and pleading to move the much needed Student High Performance Sports facility to another already identified and much more appropriate and safer alternative site central to the services and infrastructure of campus?
Over 175 tree-sitters have taken their turn in these beautiful trees. People visit from all over to witness their courage.
Over 250 arrests of students, fathers, mothers and kids by UC’s taxpayer- and tuition-supported police force plus a double steel-gauged fence topped with barbed wire and a permanent closing off of a public, free-speech sidewalk were the processes chosen by UC. Possibilities could have included a more noble choice fitting of an eminent institution. Back at day one of this project, UC could have had Town Hall meetings to truly engage in an open transparent, step-by-step public process and not push through an already decided project. Democracy is time consuming but necessary if we are to claim here in Berkeley acting out of a democratic process and that includes a public taxpayer benefited university!
I will never forget the red fox and raccoons scurrying past the ugly generators lighting up the night sky and spewing dirty diesel into the Berkeley air night after night as the for hire Landmark Security personnel stand guard all night. I will never forget a UC football player who came to the grove and said in objection “This is just crazy to cut these trees.” When asked if he could lend his voice, his reply was “I am under contract…I am not allowed to say anything unless they approve it or I will loose my scholarship.”
I will also never forget when I asked Chancellor Robert Birgeneau at an open reception at International House with my bold kindness “Can you help us save these trees?” He screamed at me and said, “I absolutely will not. You are endangering the safety of the students.” There was a profound silence that followed and as I quietly left, and police were dispatched to arrest me for this act of asking.
I also will never forget the screaming of a tree-sitter as his line was cut by arborists—putting him in danger as a UC spokesperson’s media interview was broadcast that morning stating that UC will not go in and endanger the tree-sitters. But I also will remember my walks through the grove before the plans came down to chop it down. It has a wild edge and is a place where animals and humans can co-exist. I will also remember school children visiting the grove, students studying in the grove under these beautiful trees, and a mom bringing her two children to eat their lunch under the cool shade of the trees.
All this expense and energy of battle for 600-plus days of war against the community just for the university to be powerfully right and in contradiction of everything this university is supposed to teach and stand for…and for what and at what expense? Who really gains?
We do have a choice. There are indeed options. We can have a brand new sports facility away from the Hayward Fault and we can save this grove where the fox and deer can again run free through this wildlife corridor.
We can all work together, if we choose, and in integrity, and in transparency—and by way of a conservation easement we can protect this grove of coast live oaks and redwoods, and cedars and California bay laurel and all the species they harbor and the soil they hold.
We can then together, in an act of reconciliation, dedicate the grove it to all veterans of wars and to native peoples and return this grove to the peaceful shaded place it was and for all future generations of children and students and elders to enjoy and for birds and animals to traverse and roam and we know can do this.
We can also obtain the help of the entire City of Berkeley and its diverse community, its youth and the Cal staff, the Golden Bears, students, faculty and alumni to accomplish this. We can focus on something positive and raise the bar!
Noted philanthropists Barclay Simpson and his wife Sharon can also help and also the Goldman Family, the founders of the Goldman Environmental Prize whose recipients are honored for tackling some of the most pressing environmental issues of the day through grassroots efforts, helping to educate and motivate local communities to get involved in the effort to protect the natural environment around them and to stand up for their rights.
We can do this together and set the example with leadership and exemplify the living meaning of “Let there be light.”
Go Cal! Go Berkeley! Yes to trees! Yes to being good sports and good neighbors!
Mary Rose Kaczorowski is a Berkeley activist.