Activists Standing Atop Wheeler Hall Demand Change

Eight Protesters Occupy Fourth-Story Ledge on Wheeler Hall, Step Down Following Negotiations With Officials

Christopher McDermut/Photo

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March 3rd: Protest at Wheeler, Part I

Protesters stand on top of Wheeler Hall on March 3rd as hundreds of people gathered in support at the base of the building.

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Eight protesters occupied a fourth-story ledge on Wheeler Hall for over seven hours Thursday, returning to the ground after two of their four demands were addressed by the UC Berkeley administration.

Demands to have student conduct charges dropped and to open a dialogue about the campus Operational Excellence program were partially met, while demands to end budget cuts and to democratize the UC Board of Regents were not.

"True democracy can happen through this method, through our voices," said sophomore Marco Amaral. "This has to continue because we have two demands that have not been met ... There's nothing we can't do."

Soon after an initial nine activists moved to the top of Wheeler by 1:45 p.m., a crowd of demonstrators - whose numbers peaked at about 300 by 4:30 p.m. - flooded the building's south steps. One of the nine ledge protesters was pulled inside by UCPD and arrested at 2:46 p.m. and booked at the Berkeley Jail Facility for trespassing with intent to damage property.

The crowd was forced off the eastern half of the steps at around 6:15 p.m. by a police force equipped with riot gear that included officers from the Berkeley, Oakland, UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley campus police departments.

Pepper spray was used against some demonstrators, while other protesters reported being hit with batons.

"All of a sudden, I was surrounded by riot police who were hitting me in the stomach and head," said senior Pourya Khademi. "Just as I was turning away, another one sprayed me directly in the face."

Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard conducted final negotiations with the protesters' representative, UC Berkeley School of Law student and Campus Rights Project member Daniela Urban. The conclusion of negotiations was announced at about 8:45 p.m. and protesters began to leave the ledge. They left the building at 9:17 p.m. to a group of about 150 people outside.

According to the terms of the negotiations, protesters from demonstrations at Wheeler Hall on both Wednesday and Thursday will not face student conduct charges. However, three of the 17 arrested Wednesday may still face charges for obstructing a peace officer by the district attorney.

Additionally, students with pending charges from the Nov. 20, 2009, Wheeler Hall occupation will have the option to accept probation through the end of the semester rather than go through with their hearings.

That the student conduct charges - which had a "very chilling effect on student protesters" - were dropped shows that student protesters will not be silenced, said sophomore Abhay Agarwal, who has a pending student conduct hearing for the November 2009 occupation.

"Finally (the administration) got their shit straight," he said. "They have seen our power."

While she said she was happy with the outcome of the protest, senior Cristina Urista, who was one of the protesters on the ledge, said that the change had been a long time coming.

"This is my last semester ... I refused to give up," she said. "It doesn't even feel so much like a triumph, it feels like, 'Oh, finally.'"

Adelyn Baxter, J.D. Morris and Javier Panzar of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Jordan Bach-Lombardo is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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