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People's Park Tree-Sit 3 Up in the Air Again Despite In-Park Opposition and Telegraph Property Owners’ Pleas to "Revitalize" Park

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday August 31, 2011 - 10:18:00 AM
The latest People's Park tree-sitter, Moon Shadow, in his "mid-twenties," and non-the-less
            for wear after two nights on the boards
Ted Friedman
The latest People's Park tree-sitter, Moon Shadow, in his "mid-twenties," and non-the-less for wear after two nights on the boards

Despite opposition from within People's Park, and calls by adjacent property owners for park reform, a revived tree-sit has become the first revitalizing action in the park—since the last one. The new action launches from the same perch where Matt Dodt, 53, was fork-lifted out in January after three months aloft. 

The revived tree-sit may not stay off the ground if university police have anything to say about it. January's bust was costly, and according to Lt. Marc DeCoulode, "we may do something different this time" (arrest sooner?). 

Last year, Dodt manned his post three months until police charged him with attempted murder after riled-up park West-enders tried to dislodge the tree-sitter. An Alameda District Attorney later reduced the charges to assault with a deadly weapon; after months of hearings the charges were further reduced, after the alleged victim refused to testify. 

Dodt told me, the night he was arrested, that he had only "poked" the victim's hands, with a camping knife but this did not keep him from serving three months in Alameda County Jail, Santa Rita. Dodt said the alleged victim had clamored up the tree to assault him. The alleged victim reportedly told police Dodt had tried to slit his throat. 

Much as university police had tried to talk Dodt down from the start, they've been prevailing on Dodt's successor, Moon Shadow, "a traveler," who says he's in his mid-twenties. 

University police first spoke with Moon Shadow the Monday morning after he ascended the majestic 40-foot spruce tree late Sunday. Police talked to him late Monday and early Tuesday, according to Moon Shadow. The spruce is at the outermost limits of a North-west park site, near an often-crowded walkway approaching university housing unit 2. 

According to Moon Shadow the police spoke tough, employing a little "good cop vs. bad cop," strategy, offering variously to run him off or get him off if he comes down soon. 

"They said they thought this tree-sit was "ineffective, and generally put it down," according to Moon Shadow. Meanwhile the police are counting Moon Shadow's number of trespasses. Breaking the park's 10p curfew is considered trespassing, according to Lt. Decaloude. 

The tree-sitter's demand—stop university encroachment in the park (altering the park's vegetation, "making homelessness a crime,")—headed the list for last year's tree-sit protest. In last year's sit, the list of complaints grew, just as they had in 2006-2008, when an Oak Grove tree-sit to halt planned construction at Memorial stadium that would have destroyed a protected oak grove grew to include protecting Indian remains, allegedly buried there. 

The Oak Grove protest was the longest urban tree-sit in North America, which cost the university an estimated million dollars, and was organized by Zachary Running Wolf Brown, 48, a Berkeley, native and elder in the Blackfeet tribe of Montana The adjacent areas to the stadium protest were disrupted by noise, police and fire vehicles, and a swarm of encircling T.V. helicopters. Brown also organized the latest tree-sit event. 

The circus atmosphere at Oak Grove is exactly what People's Park regulars fear. As Hate-Man said, disgustedly, yesterday in Camp Hate, "if that tree stabbing in January had been the other way around; if the sitter gets stabbed—the protest grows into a circus, out of sympathy, and that's what I don't want." Hate-man is the tree-sitter's next door (tree) neighbor. 

Anti-tree sit sentiment smoldered during last year's tree-sit and led to a bloody counter-protest at the end. 

If the objections bother Running Wolf, he's not letting on. "Fuck them. It's not their park," he has said. "If People's Park is owned by anyone," says Running Wolf, it's owned by the Ohlone. Even if we can't prove the Ohlone claim, the park still belongs to Indians as does Berkeley and all of America." 

Running Wolf, who is running for mayor, rarely backs down. 

Maybe that quality is what impressed Moon Shadow to throw in with the tree-sit maven. Moon shadow was merely passing through Berkeley last week (although he visits here often, he was only here a week this time) when he met Running Wolf, who has promised for months that this tree-sit would recur when "the students return." 

Although, he told the Daily Californian, this latest protest was pegged to a Telegraph Avenue property owners "resolution" to "revitalize" the park, which might challenge the presence of Food Not Bombs, the sit had been planned for months. 

Running Wolf was chalking the walks with Indian motifs near the tree-sit site last week when Moon Shadow met him, he said, and they just "hit it off." 

When Running Wolf pitched the sit, Moon Shadow was, he said, "receptive" because he had always wanted to try tree-sitting it. "What have I got to lose?" he asked. "Besides, Running Wolf is very persuasive and well-informed." 

Moon Shadow met former tree-sitter, Matt Dodt, during the November tree-sit, during one of Moon Shadow's Berkeley stopovers. 

Moon Shadow expects occasional relief from his four man support team, with each of them taking turns, intermittently, on the platform installed by Running Wolf. 

The previous tree occupant, Matt Dodt, vowed to stay until his demands were met, but Moon Shadow will be hitting the road again in a month, he said. He has no previous experience with being a tree-sitter, he said. 

By the time, Moon Shadow leaves town, he expects a network of supporters to man the Spruce. Plans are underway, he said, to expand the tree-sit with more platforms, and possibly more tree sites. 

Moon Shadow recently attended the Rainbow Gathering in Modoc County, and said he had been inspired by the high degree of co-operation and self-governance at the tribal gathering, founded in Colorado in 1972. 

Everyone will just have to sit this out. 


Ted Friedman returns to the (tree) scene of South side crimes.