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Up a Limb: Trying to Understand Latest People's Park Tree-Sit

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday December 01, 2010 - 10:24:00 AM

Once you take crazy off the table, you'll find it hard to understand the tree-sitter encamped in the branches of a 40- foot tall Redwood in near-freezing People's Park. 

He went up in the air before the November 2 city elections, protesting District 7 candidate George Beier's plans to "change" the park. 

But even though Beier lost to Kris Worthington, Matt stayed up, widening his protest. 

The wider protest echoed complaints by park regulars. The complaints allege the university has damaged the parks’ shrubs and trees and confiscated backpacks. Beginning construction of a new student dorm across from the park at Haste is seen as an attempt by the university to smother the park, and eventually occupy it. 

The university says it's only doing necessary plant maintenance. Confiscation of backpacks stems from park rules limiting possessions brought into the park. Seemingly abandoned packs are stored.  

So what keeps the tree- sitter perched? He's beginning his second month of what seems to be a personal commitment that has landed him in near-freezing tree branches in one of the coldest winters on record. 

Tree sitter Midnight Matt, 53, was 10 years old in 1967, the beginnings of park turmoil. But he feels the oppressive boot of the university as if he were manning the barricades back in the day. 

Few have rallied to his cause. Few are supporting. Except for the Planet, media is mute. 

People's Park's own history may be the sit’s true supporter. That history tells the story of protesters planting flowers, and later other plants, only to have the university remove them overnight. 

Yet, if you walk the outer boundaries of the park today, you will find abundant, even impressive, tress and shrubs, in the east and west sections. A majestic palm tree, symbol of peace and vacations, spreads its protective peduncles over the nearby park restrooms.  

But Midnight Matt sees the university poised for a takeover. If this seems far-fetched, consider that the park, 2.8 acres of moola, squats on one of the most valuable undeveloped tracts left in Berkeley. 

The park site and maintenance could easily be seen as a financial burden on U.C. with its incredibly shrinking budget. 

If the park property became dorms, for instance, the money might flow in, not out. 

In the current impasse, while the university woulda coulda shoulda develop the park site, they are constantly caught in a dilemma: grab the park, risking expensive police intervention, injuries to students and locals—bad publicity. 

Or let it be. 

You'd think let it be would be acceptable to protesters.  

Still Matt, living in a tree while not seeing the forest, continues to see the park's continued existence as threatened, the encroachments to trees and shrubs as harbingers. The new dorm in his bedroom, intimidates; when construction gets underway the noise will gall. 

And, as he freely admits, he likes to "stick it" to the university. 



Ted Friedman has lived a hop skip and a jump from People's Park for 30 years. 

Lately, the park has turned into his habit. This is his third piece on it.