Public Comment

What If They Called a Riot and No One Came?

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday October 13, 2010 - 09:45:00 AM

I showed up at People's Park Saturday morning before the big homecoming game at Memorial Stadium expecting a riot. 

All the ingredients of a witches' brew were simmering. The Telegraph Business 

Improvement District had urged the University to hold an unprecedented pep rally in... (hold onto your seat)--People's Park! That's right: a pep rally in the belly of a beast with animal memory of a deep wound. 

That past includes decisions on the part of the university that led directly to an event referred to as "bloody Thursday," (1969) in which more than 300 cops, including State Highway Patrol and Alameda Sheriff's deputies, rioted. 

As the riot spread to Telegraph Ave., James Rector, a student, was killed and a Berkeley resident, Alan Blanchard, was blinded. 

One-hundred and twenty eight protesters were wounded. 

The blaming finger is often pointed at then governor, Ronald Reagan, who had been elected on the pledge to quell protestors at state campuses, and the university itself, which had failed to head off the catastrophe. 

U.C. President,Clark Kerr, a liberal, with U.S. Senate aspirations saw his political star extinguished as Reaganism launched. 

Participants in this tragedy are holding grudgesa half century later. But the university seemed without a memory or a clue when they installed volleyball courts in People's Park in the early 1990's leading to a riotous second act to the continuing drama of People's Park. 

Why would any self-respecting protester protest volleyball? Perhaps it was seen seen as an encroachment on a Gettysburg soaked in the blood of Berkeley. 

When Berkeley officials who oversee the park were lobbied by the Telly businessmen to promote "multi-use," and "free speech," they at first thought it a reasonable enough notion. Why not hold that Sproul Hall pepper right smack dab in the center of People's Park. Why, indeed, not? 

Miracle would be too strong and a funny thing happened, too weak. Yet, the university suddenly became too late wise. 

Using the brains their educations gave them, U.C. officials saw through the specious argument for free speech, advanced by the businessmen. 

Students have been freely speechifying at Sproul Hall since the Free Speech Movement of the Sixties; in fact, pep rallies are held in the Sproul Plaza routinely. 

Maybe they have also concluded that "multi-use" is nothing more than provocative, a challenge to the park's role as a last ditch safety net for the homeless. 

One of the businessmen, channeling Reagan, could be heard muttering that the university had caved. 

Better late than never, they say. 

As the nation hails the seventy year anniversary 

of John Lennon's life, peace has its chance. 


Ted Friedman lives a half block from People's park.