Flash: Berkeley Post Office Protesters Evicted after 17 Months

Erin Baldassari (BCN)
Tuesday April 12, 2016 - 10:25:00 PM

After 17 months of camping outside a post office in downtown Berkeley to protest the privatization of public goods, demonstrators were evicted this morning, according to a postal inspector and protesters. 

Police arrived around 5 a.m. to rouse the sleeping demonstrators, said Mike Wilson, an organizer with the group Berkeley Post Office Defenders. 

Demonstrators had been camped outside the facility since November 2014 to protest the sale of the post office, Wilson said. In April 2015, a federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit blocking the sale of the building after the postal service took the property off the market. 

By the time the decision was reached, Wilson said the encampment had grown and the mission of the demonstration had morphed. Demonstrators were no longer merely protesting the sale of the building but were striving for a much loftier goal: to end the privatization of all public goods.  

"This strategy of privatization pops up in all kinds of services from water to energy to health care, you name it," Wilson said. "The fact that we were able to hold the site to distribute information and raise awareness, it seemed like we shouldn't just give that up because of the suspension of the sale of the post office." 

So the demonstrators stayed. They became better connected, developed relationships with local restaurants and bakeries that donated food, built a community garden, set up weekly Saturday morning coffee and water for hot chocolate, and distributed donated clothing and other goods, Wilson said.  

"All of this was to raise awareness of the importance of participating in society and in communities, not just hiring someone else to do it for you," Wilson said. 

The demonstrators also began offering services to homeless people who joined the encampment, referring them to city services, sharing food, and distributing socks and other clothing, Wilson said.  

U.S. Postal Service officials have been telling the demonstrators they cannot stay on federal property since November 2014, said postal inspector Jeff Fitch.  

"We've been stopping by and giving out leaflets, letting them know they could not camp out, and they have to move out," Fitch said. 

Wilson said they had been told repeatedly that the postal police had no intention of enforcing trespassing rules against them. But, as recently as April 2, Wilson issued a call to action, saying the postal service officials had issued "a serious threat to raid" the protest site. 

Fitch said the decision to remove the encampment came after receiving complaints from local businesses, post office employees, and "other entities." 

"We've been very patient," Fitch said. "There were no surprises." 

Police cited four or five people with federal misdemeanors for blocking federal property, though no one was arrested, Fitch said.  

Postal police and inspectors confiscated property from demonstrators this morning, but Fitch said it is being catalogued and would be available for protesters to pick up.  

Wilson said it was too early to say whether the demonstrators would attempt to re-occupy the site. If they do, Fitch said they would mostly likely face removal.