Trees Cleared, Commentary Continues

Last Protesters Clambered Down from Branches But Viewpoints on Oak Grove Ordeal Remain Strong

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Out of the Trees But Demands Still Remain

After the university cut down trees by Memorial Stadium, the tree-sitters remained for three days in a lone redwood tree surrounded by decimation before they agreed to come down on Tuesday. During those three days you probably wanted to know: What do they want in order to come down?

UC has a systemic problem: It receives all the legal benefits of a public institution while lacking any democratic process that involves the community in land use decisions. Community members can make comments after decisions are made, but have no real role during the planning process.

We asked for UC to create a "Community Land Use and Capital Projects Committee," which would be systematically involved in land use, land management and development planning decisions, both at the brainstorm phase of projects and on an ongoing basis. The committee would be comprised of students, community members, neighborhood association representatives, Native Americans, environmentalists and city government representatives. Community members would have substantial and serious input into decisions that affect their environment; and UC would ensure a more cooperative spirit and avoid the drawbacks of lawsuits and protests.

We further asked for UC to set aside a non-trivial sum from future football revenues to be utilized to benefit land conservation as well as the Intertribal Friendship House, which serves Native American communities.

Finally, we wanted UC to return the remains of the "Grandmother Oak," a tree that was older than the university, so that Native Americans will be able to make drums or other religious artifacts.

Our hope is that these proposals build toward a positive future of a more sustainable, democratic and cooperative university.

UC was unwilling to discuss any of these proposals until after the tree-sitters came down. In the interests of safety and ending the protest on a positive note, the tree-sitters spoke directly with UC officials, and reached an agreement that Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom would make the following public statement: "The University will create new ways to involve the community in land use decisions going forward."

But what will that involvement be? Will it be a token form of rubber-stamp representation, while the university pursues business as usual, or will it be a genuine effort to involve the community in decisions? It is up to all the citizens of Berkeley to make sure the university does the right thing.

We still believe the university should use its financial resources to mitigate the destruction of the grove and return the Grandmother Oak stump to the Native American community.

Finally, Native American leader and community organizer Morning Star Gali requested that she and others be able to enter the remains of the grove and place tobacco offerings at the stump of the Grandmother Oak. UCPD Chief Victoria Harrison agreed on Saturday to this request, but she made it conditional on the tree-sitters' coming down first. Our response at the time was simple: It's completely inappropriate to link the two issues, which are unrelated. Under no circumstances should the Native American community's religious rights be denied. After the tree-sit ended, Morning Star again made the request, and Harrison has not returned her calls.

Morning Star has announced that the Native American community will attempt to hold the ceremony this today at 10 a.m. at the remains of the oak grove, and all are welcome. We hope Harrison will do the right thing and open the gate to let us in, so please call her and ask her to do so. Also please ask her to return the stump of the Grandmother Oak.

It is truly incomprehensible how, in 2008, an institution that claims to be so progressive can destroy a Native American burial ground, a World War I Veterans' memorial and an urban forest and wildlife corridor in violation of local laws while there is a yet-to-be-concluded court case just to build an athletic center that could easily be built elsewhere. Furthermore, it is despicable that this same institution-which pimps its reputation as "the birthplace of free speech"-has vilified so badly those who would defend this place, going so far as to accuse us of endangering students, when it was UC who negligently built office and training facilities in this death trap of a stadium 28 years ago.

We loved the oak grove dearly, as did so many others. Its loss is a tragedy. We hope that UC will show respect for the countless community members who dedicated so much for this sacred place.

Eric "Ayr" Eisenberg

Tree-sit supporter

Blatant Disregard of Sacred Burial Grounds

The oak grove by Memorial Stadium is regarded as a sacred place to Native American people and is documented as such by UC Berkeley's own Anthropology Department. There is evidence of two shell mound sites in the area, with 19 ancestral remains found within them. Along with UC Berkeley's attempt to develop on a sacred place, the university is guilty of housing over 17,000 sacred remains and objects. UC Berkeley currently holds the largest human remains collection in the United States, and it is not in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Quoting Morning Star Gali of the Pit River Tribe and co-chair of Advocates to Protect Sacred Sites. "I asked [the cops] if they would stand by as complacent if it was their grandmother's gravesites being desecrated. I want my children here to witness the destruction of sacred life and how important it is to protect it. I wanted them to witness the cops, arborists and UC officials that participated and cheered as the trees came crashing down from bulldozers. This exhibits the ongoing human rights abuses committed by the university. They refuse to comply with NAGPRA by holding 13,000 of our ancestors remains hostage."

Does this event seem to keep with a Constitutional amendment guarantees the freedom of worship to you? And do you think that the quake that evening might be your mother speaking to you?

Cecile Pineda

Bay Area novelist

Environmental Impact of Cutting Down Trees

There sure is a lot of hype these days about the tree-sitters. The oak grove by Memorial Stadium contains approximately 70 full-grown trees. According to the United States Congress, a full-grown tree cuts carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 50 pounds per year.

So, the oak grove offsets approximately 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, and since the trees were planted in 1923, they collectively store nearly 300,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.

For nearly two years, dozens of activists have rallied to save 70 trees and spent countless hours fighting the university, and unfortunately, the battle seems to be lost.

The good news is that on November 4, Californians have the chance to make a significantly larger environmental impact. By passing Proposition 1, California would begin construction on a high-speed rail system that would offset 12,000,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. That's 40,000 times more carbon that won't go into our atmosphere. And with the threat of global warming, we all need to put our time to good use.

Gabriel Elsner

Berkeley, CA

Actions Hardly Reflect University's Values

On the university seal, the motto "Let there be light" is paired with an open book and the five-pointed university star that emanates rays of light representing the discovery and sharing of knowledge. On the University of California's Web site one can view the following: "Principles of community for the University of California, Berkeley, are rooted in our mission of teaching, research and public service. They reflect our passion for critical inquiry, debate, discovery and innovation, and our deep commitment to contributing to a better world. Every member of the UC Berkeley community has a role in sustaining a safe, caring and humane environment in which these values can thrive. We place honesty and integrity in our teaching, learning, research and administration at the highest level." Also highlighted on UC Berkeley's Web site are the university's fundamental missions, which are teaching, research and public service.

How does this all play out in relation to the battle by a university against a community standing for protection of an oak grove?

How can a university feed a one-sided pitch to alumni, students and sports fans against a community trying to do the right thing-pleading to move the much needed student high performance sports facility to another already identified and much more appropriate and safer alternative site central to the services and infrastructure of campus?

Over 100 tree sitters have taken their turn in these beautiful trees. People visited from all over to witness their courage.

UC's tuition and taxpayer money supported the police force in the arrest many students, fathers, mothers and kids. A double fence topped with barbed wire and a permanent closing off of public free speech sidewalk were the processes chosen by UC. Possibilities could have included a more noble choice fitting of an eminent institution. Back at day one of this project, UC could have had town hall meetings to truly engage in an open transparent, step-by-step public process and not push through an already decided project.

I will never forget the red fox and raccoons scurrying past the ugly generators lighting up the night sky and spewing dirty diesel into the Berkeley air night after night as the security personnel stood guard all night. I will never forget a UC football player who came to the grove and said in objection "this is just crazy to cut these trees." When asked if he could lend his voice, his reply was "I am under contract I am not allowed to say anything unless they approve it and I will loose my scholarship."

I will also never forget when I asked Chancellor Robert Birgeneau at an open reception at International House, "Can you help us save these trees," he said, " I absolutely will not you are endangering the safety of the student" and the profound silence that followed and as I quietly left, police were dispatched to arrest me for this act of asking.

I also will never forget the screaming of a tree-sitter as his line was cut by arborists-putting him in danger as the UC spokesperson's media interview was broadcast that morning stating that UC will not go in and endanger the tree-sitters. But I also will remember my walks through the grove before the plans came down to chop it down. I will also remember school children visiting the grove, students studying in the grove under these beautiful trees, and a mom bringing her two children to eat their lunch under the cool shade of the trees.

All this expense and energy of battle for more than 600 days of war against the community just for the university to be powerfully right and in contradiction of everything this University is supposed to teach and stand for and for what and at what expense?

Mary Kaczorowski

Berkeley, CA

Tags: TREE-SIT






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