Protesters Occupy Wheeler Hall

For 12 Hours, 40 Protesters, the Majority Students, Barricaded Themselves in the Building as Police and Supporters Gathered Outside

Photo: Protesters occupied a section of the second floor of Wheeler Hall early Friday morning. Throughout the day, they communicated their demands to those below through a window.
Tim Maloney/Staff
Protesters occupied a section of the second floor of Wheeler Hall early Friday morning. Throughout the day, they communicated their demands to those below through a window.

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Strike Against Fee Increase: Day Three, Wheeler Occupation

On November 20, the third day of the UC system-wide strike against student fee increases, 43 students occupied Wheeler Hall with four Berkeley campus related demands. Police from both UCPD and Alameda County soon formed a barricade around Wheeler. Students and community members surrounded Wheeler to support those occupying the building.

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Correction Appended

In an act of civil disobedience that escalated into a mass demonstration, 40 activists occupied Wheeler Hall, a major UC Berkeley building, for more than 12 hours last Friday to protest one of the largest University of California student fee increases in recent history.

The protesters drew national media attention and support from at least 1,000 students after locking themselves in a section of the second floor of Wheeler Hall. They did so a day after the UC Board of Regents passed a 32 percent student fee hike to take effect throughout 2010, bringing resident undergraduate fees to total more than $10,000 per year for the first time.

The fees were approved to help offset a state budget cut of $637.1 million to the university for the fiscal year. UC Berkeley alone faces a budget gap of $150 million.

"(Administrators) are not listening, and I feel like this was ... a really desperate attempt to make them listen to us," said senior Hatty Lee, an ethnic studies major. "Even then that didn't work."

The Occupation

Before 6:30 a.m. Friday, a group of 43 protesters entered Wheeler in a hastily organized attempt to bring attention to their discontent about the fee increases. Forty of the demonstrators successfully locked themselves in the building, while the other three were arrested early Friday morning.

As a crowd grew outside, police formed a perimeter to prevent people from entering or leaving the building.

The occupiers used Twitter to communicate and spoke to supporters through a window to relate demands. These included the repeal of the approved fee increase, the rehiring of 38 custodians, good-faith lease negotiations for the Bear's Lair Food Court vendors and the renewal of the Rochdale co-op lease.

In the end, though the protesters' demands were not met, talks between administrators, student leaders, police and faculty from the Solidarity Alliance yielded arrangements for what all hoped would be a peaceful end. Among those involved were ASUC President Will Smelko and professor Ananya Roy.

The 40 protesters in Wheeler were arrested, cited and released for trespassing before exiting without handcuffs at about 7:30 p.m. At least 36 were UC Berkeley students.

Three activists, who were arrested earlier Friday when protesters initially entered the building, were originally charged with felony burglary. The charges were later reduced to trespassing, according to junior Julian Martinez, who was one of the three.

At least two additional arrests were made outside the building, according to UCPD Lt. Alex Yao. Integrative biology professor Robert Dudley said he was arrested for resisting and obstructing police.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said it is unlikely the students will face disciplinary actions such as suspension or expulsion.

Police Response

The demonstration elicited a large response from police. Roughly 40 UCPD officers, 40 Berkeley Police officers, 60 Alameda County Sheriff's Office deputies and 45 Oakland Police officers were on scene over the course of the day, Yao said.

Officers wore riot gear with their face shields down. Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office, said they carried "less lethal" munitions, which they did not deploy, contrary to many crowd members' claims.

While activists said they wanted to keep the protest peaceful, police struck people with batons and pointed weapons at them to forcibly maintain order.

"(Protesters) were holding their line and said ... 'We are not going to push you, but we are not moving,'" said Abel Mejia, a junior political science major at City College of San Francisco.

While the number of demonstrator injuries remains unclear, at least one police officer was reportedly injured, according to Mogulof.

The Word Spreads

Fire alarms in many buildings were set off, forcing hundreds of students, staff and faculty to evacuate and cancel class.

"I don't find this helpful," said Eli Cochran, manager of user experience for Education Technology Services, who evacuated Dwinelle Hall. "I'm highly sympathetic to their cause, but ultimately the people that need to be informed are the voters."

According to an e-mail from Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, about 3,800 students could not attend classes in Wheeler because of the protest. "Taking over our classroom buildings is not a productive way in which to advance our shared interests in gaining support for public higher education," he wrote.

Still, some students said they appreciated the occupants' efforts to bring attention to campus issues and hope more people will support their cause.

"I believe that to fight these fee hikes, to fight these large injustices, these are big fights," said sophomore and occupier Marika Iyer. "We can't do that with 40 people. We need 40,000 people, we need 40 million people."

Jamie Applegate, George Ashworth, Tomer Ovadia, Zach E.J. Williams and Mihir Zaveri of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Correction: Tuesday, February 9, 2010
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the UC faced a $813 million deficit for the fiscal year, in fact the UC faced a state budget cut of $637.1 million.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Angelica Dongallo and Javier Panzar at [email protected]

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