Protesters in Wheeler Hall Say Activists Are Staying Put

Skyler Reid/Staff

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Strike, Day Three Part One: Wheeler Occupation Raw Footage

The picketers rally around Wheeler Hall. The police get involved as a couple of strikers refuse to move from their spot.

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Strike, Day Three Part Two: Wheeler Occupation Raw Footage

About 60 protesters occupy Wheeler Hall. The picketers rally around Wheeler Hall as the strike against the fee increase escalates.

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Strike, Day Three Part Three: Wheeler Occupation Raw Footage

Here, the protesters inside of Wheeler Hall address the crowds outside.

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Strike, Day Three Part Four: Wheeler Occupation Raw Footage

As the afternoon passes, protestors still occupy Wheeler Hall and supporters still rally outside.

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Hundreds of protesters have surrounded UC Berkeley's Wheeler Hall in what began as a building occupation by about 50 students inside the building Friday morning.

Beginning early Friday morning, protesters barricaded themselves inside a room on the second floor of Wheeler a day after the UC Board of Regents approved a 32 percent increase in student fees.

As of 3:40 p.m. Friday, the second floor of Wheeler was still being held by activists who have blocked the doors from the inside.

In addition, about 500 protesters, many of them students, chanted and cheered for those inside the building as police officers from UCPD and the Berkeley Police Department attempted to keep anyone from entering the building.

Scarf- and bandanna-covered individuals have taken turns speaking through a megaphone to the crowds that have gathered around Wheeler as the occupation of the building has continued.

According to a masked protester in the building who used a megaphone to communicate to the crowd outside, the demands of the occupants include repealing the 32 percent fee increase, maintaining the current occupants of Bear's Lair Food Court, renewing Rochdale co-op's lease and dropping all charges related to the protest.

"We want free public education for anyone that wants it," said an unidentified protester from the second floor of Wheeler. "That was the promise of the UC, that's what we stand for."

Sophomore and protest organizer Will Heegaard said he and others moved into the building shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday night, using ropes, a car ratchet and other gear. Calling from his cell phone at around 9:30 a.m. Friday, he said that the police's attempts to enter the ground floor, using wedges and crowbars, had forced the demonstrators to move to the second floor of the building.

According to Yao, UCPD officers then arrested three demonstrators, who have been preliminarily charged with burglary.

"It's from trespassing with the intent to commit a crime," Yao said.

This week, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and other members of the UC Berkeley campus demonstrated against the UC Board of Regents' decision to raise student fees by 32 percent over the course of 2010. The regents' meeting, held at UCLA, drew about 2,000 student protesters, more than a dozen of whom were arrested and at least two of whom were tasered.

On Wednesday, roughly 1,000 people attended a noontime rally on Sproul Plaza--a much lower head count than the 5,000 who participated in an earlier rally on Sept. 24. Attendance was even thinner on Thursday, when about 175 demonstrators marched to California Hall.

"We felt that the strike this week was great, but it didn't expand on the Sept. 24 strike, and that's what we were trying to catalyze," said Heegaard, sitting in the hallway near classroom 243 as police tried to pry their way in below.

He added that they plan to stay put for "as long as we can."

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said before police attempt to remove the protesters inside Wheeler, the "priority is to stabilize the situation outside."

"Once (police) feel that's secured, they can move their attention inside," she said.

Between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Friday, UCPD noticed that the front and back doors to Wheeler were blocked with furniture and chained shut, Yao said.

He said police had "made their way into the building" but did not disclose further details.

In a campuswide e-mail sent at 9 a.m. Friday, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau wrote, "The campus police are working to resolve a protest action that is occurring in Wheeler Hall. Staff, faculty and students who would normally be working in Wheeler Hall are asked to remain out of the building until further notice. Employees who can contact their supervisors should talk to them if possible to determine whether telecommuting or relocation to another work area is an option. Those in the building right now are advised to leave until the situation has been resolved."

The building has internal fire doors on the second floor that can be used to block access to the entire floor from inside the building. Yao said these doors are currently blocked by protesters.

Police in riot gear made a more visible presence around the building at about 10 a.m. as they moved in between the protestors outside and the building.

Wheeler holds classrooms for student instruction as well as office space for staff and faculty. The UC Berkeley English department has its administrative offices in the building.

Yao said the primary concern of the police was for public safety.

"We want to make sure this situation resolves quickly and safely for all that are involved, including the demonstrators," he said.


Contact George Ashworth and Stephanie M. Lee at [email protected]

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