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Could the Current Struggling
People's Park Protest Go Viral?
Running Wolf Says Yes

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday January 12, 2011 - 03:18:00 PM

As the one-man tree-sit in a 40 year old Redwood at the northeast corner of People's Park enters its 74th day, its mastermind, Running Wolf, 47, is considering his options as the original demands fail to catch on and the protest struggles for support. 

The original protest was in response to proposals for changes in the park by candidate George Beier in the recent District 7 council election—changes perceived to displace the present park population. But since Beier's defeat, the protest has struggled to widen the issues. 

Zachary Running Wolf Brown (the surname of his adoptive Berkeley family) employs the cunning of a wolf as he discusses strategy from the balcony of the Caffe Mediterraneum near the park. 

What's to strategize? 

Organizing a protest is more complicated than you might think. All sorts of planning, logistics, and media management matters must fall into place, as most Berkeleyans think they know. 

But when it comes to successful tree-sits, Running Wolf has a lot to howl about. He planned what is considered the longest urban tree-sit in the nation. The protest in the Oak Grove at Memorial Stadium lasted more than two years. Although the protest failed to stop the university's plan to level the Oak Grove, it was hardly a failure. 

Running Wolf's message inspired articles in the New York Times, the Economist, and the New Yorker. Around the bay, it was hot copy for months on end. Helicopters aloft and reporters on the ground created crowds of their own. The Oak Grove protest attracted the attention of Tony Serra, the famous civil liberties attorney, who represented arrested protesters—Running Wolf among them—pro bono. 

What was gained? An ABC opinion poll showed Berkeleyans almost equally divided between approval and disapproval. Most Cal students preferred their books over the trees. Still the Oak Grove protest received much more than fifteen minutes of fame world-wide. 

Can Running Wolf do it again—in People's Park? He tells me he can, drawing parallels to the Oak Grove protest at Memorial Stadium. "That protest started much like the present one," he says. "I didn't know someone would do the research on an Ohlone village buried beneath the grove," he said. 

"I didn't know about the location of the Ohlone village in the early stages of our protest. The case for our cause just continued to improve," he says. 

"We developed our strategies as we went along." 

"The weather has hurt us," he says, reducing his network of supporters. "But we are connected with many tree people who will show up if we need them." 

Financial support available during the economic boom years of the Oak Grove protest has dried up, he acknowledges. And bad weather has reduced revenues from the Berkeley Flea Market which donates to park causes. 

"That's why I'm keeping this small at this time," he says, "and I am not talking to major media." If it gets too big too fast, we might not be able to finance it, he says. 

"If it weren't for the food we get from food not bombs in the park, we'd have a harder time," he says. 

He says he's using money from his own income from the Blackfeet Nation, his tribe in Montana, where he is an elected Elder, to finance the tree sit. 

"Could there be a burial ground or village beneath the park?" I ask. "After all, it's not that far from the Oak Grove site; a suburb or something?" Running Wolf breaks into a grin. "Who knows," he says, a twinkle in his eye; "anything could happen." 

In the meantime, he and Midnight Mat, 52, who's doing the tree sitting in freezing temperatures, play cat and mouse with U.C. and Berkeley police. "They're staking us out from a building across from our tree" Running Wolf says. "But we are video taping," them hassling us. 

Also, he's added a new issue. The tree-sit challenges the park curfew. "The land belongs to the people," he says and they should be allowed to stay overnight in bad weather and in a bad economic period." 

"We'll be developing issues, as we go along," he points out again. 

A "celebration," of Midnight Matt's hundredth day in the Redwood, which occurs February 6, is planned at the occupied tree. Running Wolf requests donations be sent to Zachary Running Wolf; 542 25th Street, Apt. 209, Oakland, Ca, 94612. 

Ted Friedman reports from the Southside.