Protest Marks One Year In Grove

Will Kane covers city government. Contact him and Jessica Kwong at [email protected]





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As tree-sitters celebrated the one-year anniversary of their protest yesterday, they couldn’t help but point out that on the same day 43 years ago, a thousand UC Berkeley students flooded Sproul Hall during the pinacle of the Free Speech Movement.

Last December, a group of three protesters, including tree-sit leader Zachary RunningWolf, set up camp in the grove of trees near Memorial Stadium to protest the planned construction of an athletic center that would require the removal of 26 oak trees. Since then, countless sitters have cycled through the grove and dozens of people have been arrested.

The campus has erected two fences, both topped with barbed wire, to control the area around the trees and obtained a judge’s order declaring the protests illegal. Officials say they have spent $367,000 on security so far.

RunningWolf, who said he has been arrested nine times since last December, has said the sitters—10 of whom were visible yesterday—have no plans to leave the grove until the campus promises to not remove the trees.

Many supporters have called the tree-sit protest the next chapter in the grand tradition of activism at UC Berkeley.

Michael Rossman, one of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement, said student activists of the 1960s stood for the same ideals as today’s tree-sitters.

In 1964, about 1,000 students filled four floors of Sproul Hall to demand increased access to administrators in a protest of campus policies. About 800 were arrested.

“The university is trying to deny students and others the right to free political speech,” Rossman said. “What the tree-sitters are doing is a form of political speech, a dramatic form, but it is a form of political speech and it ought to be protected.”

But UC Berkeley philosophy professor John Searle, a former leader of the Free Speech Movement, called the tree-sit an inconsequential “parody” of the protests of that era.

“I think this is a ridiculous farce,” he said. “A small number of trees are involved.”

So far, the issue has elicited less response from the student body than other movements in Berkeley’s past, which some have argued is because the current protest lacks a broader cause.

“It’s not really as radical a purpose (as earlier protests),” said Berkeley historian Charles Wollenberg, who teaches history at Berkeley City College. “They are just protesting a very particular thing.”

But protests may not be a priority for students who are more concerned with academics than activism.

“The student body has changed, unfortunately,” RunningWolf said. “They just leave and grab a diploma and get in line for the corporate world.”

ASUC President Van Nguyen said that while the current student body could still be considered activists, they may not know where to direct their energy.

“I think this is an important student issue today, but maybe (there is) not enough education on it,” he said.

According to UC Berkeley senior Matthew Taylor, a founding member of the Free Speech Free Trees Student Coalition, a relatively large number of students support the tree-sitters.

About 500 students support the tree-sitters, he said, citing several Facebook groups and e-mail rosters.

“The Civil Rights Movement did not start with millions of people marching on Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It started with one woman sitting on a bus.”

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