Is “OccupyCal” sprouting anew? The Fall encampment on the Savio Steps in front of Sproul Hall was quietly cleared by the University in mid-December, as Finals approached. There was little press attention, save a short Daily Cal article, in contrast to the much-publicized and Sturm und Drang evictions of Occupy encampments in Oakland, San Francisco, and Downtown Berkeley.
Since then, the steps and Sproul Plaza have been visibly clear of encampment and Occupy emblems.
But today (January 9, 2012) a multicolored shoot of revival may have emerged. In the afternoon, four individuals began creating a new ephemeral mandela around the Free Speech Monument in Sproul Plaza. Last Fall, the monument became something of an artistic icon or shrine of OccupyCal, featuring a changing display of intricately laid out found objects.
When last seen, though, in December, it was a small pile of moldering vegetation that was swept away with the broader “clean-up” of the Savio Steps and encampment.
Today’s guerrilla artists laid out a central star, several smaller figures, and an outer border of vivid yellow gingko tree leaves, including the word “evolve”. When I stopped to talk to them on my way home after work, one said he’d been out of town for a month, but was now back and wanted to resume the modest displays, which are made of found objects, ranging from bottle caps to flower petals. In today’s display, banana peels were arranged around a follower made of lawn clippings and Lily of the Nile blossoms and marguerite blossoms.
I asked if this meant that the Sproul “General Assemblies” and occupation would also resume? They didn’t know.
But the “OccupyCal” Twitter feed also came alive today as well, by coincidence or not, with an announcement of a “General Assembly” at 6:00 pm to “start planning for spring actions”. Later, there was a note saying that 11 people had arrived for the evening meeting.
During the holidays there were comparatively few Twitter postings, most of them having to do not with campus activity but with mentions of various OccupyOakland actions and other activities outside Berkeley.
The “OccupyCal” website also has some updates hinting at Spring activities, including a “Bay Area Convergence” organizing meeting announced for January 21 off campus, to come up with five activities to implement somewhere in the Bay Area in the Spring.
Otherwise, OccupyCal, like most Cal students, seems to have largely taken a winter break from intense activities.
As finals and colder weather approached last fall, the number of people regularly on the steps—particularly those staying over night—had severely dwindled from the peak November protests.
The visible face of OccupyCal had changed from a daily mass of active discussion and sit in to one makeshift structure constructed of branches, some banners hung in an oak tree adjacent to the Steps, a couple of small tents, and changing displays of signs and found objects on the steps.
In the weeks immediately preceding the clearing, on my walks past the steps, I had noticed a low-key interplay between the demonstrators and campus police. Unlike the scenes in November, when lines of police clad in riot gear faced chanting crowds, the December interactions were more in the nature of one or two police officers chatting with one or two Occupiers, or watching from a distance.
The University’s clearance of the steps on the weekend of December 10/11 (described in a Daily Cal article linked to below) may have actually been a blessing in disguise for the campus movement. There were few daily participants left and fewer students apparent as the semester came to an end.
The removal of the remaining encampment provided the OccupyCal organizers with an opportunity to take a break from trying to sustain a presence when almost all students would be away from campus, and the primary pedestrians on Sproul would be daily dog walkers, tourists, and those UC staff (like yours truly) with campus jobs whose hours don’t change with when classes end.
After the remains were swept up and the Steps washed on December 11, only a few pink cardboard hearts remained, transferred by someone from the Steps to Sather Gate. A few days later, a cryptic “Ready?” spelled out in pink tape appeared on Sproul Plaza, with an arrow point to the Steps and Sproul Hall. Other than that, by my observation, the fall stage of the outdoor occupation was largely done.
What will come with the Spring? I don’t know, and I suspect that the OccupyCal participants don’t really know either. The Savio Steps are a big and enticing stage, but one wonders whether the encampment will return in something akin to its fall form, or morph into something entirely new?
And, although the stage is large, the potential actors are many. Not only are there the OccupyCal participants themselves, but displaced OccupyOakland and OccupyBerkeley stalwarts, the Cal student body at large, and the official University community, which is not united.
Two campus groups—the Academic Senate, and the UC Police officers themselves—carved cracks in the campus monolith in the Fall, the first with resolutions adopted 336 to 34 on November 28 condemning some of the campus response during the demonstrations, and the second with an open letter in which police officers stated, in part, “we are not your enemy” and asked “UC Administration and Regents: Please don’t ask us to enforce your polices then refuse to stand by us when we do.”
How all these factors play out in the spring is anyone’s guess. But if today’s art appearance is any indication, some form of OccupyCal may grow anew as the semester begins.
Steven Finacom has been keeping a periodic eye on the physical manifestations of the OccupyCal movement since last Fall.
UC Police open letter on Occupy demonstrations, posted on Berkeleyside website: