Every night for a year and a half something looms in the Eastern sky--either the bleached black of a clear night or else a brilliant night fog or white ominous clouds, all three illuminated by the extreme light pollution used in the police occupation of Memorial Grove as a form of slow torture.
And now what could be a sea-change in events was augered by the court date looming on Monday 25 August. The weekend of the 23-24th seemed like it might be the last time to make a video showing what "Guantanamo Berkeley" was like on an uneventful night, before any actual endgame was in play.
The police siege was just about a year old. It had started one razor-topped fence, stated to be for the mutual protection of football fans and tree protesters. Prior to this the grove had become a jolly meeting spot for many supporters and the curious. Wearing an impromtu but disturbing paper mask I toured the scene on the night of Hallowe'en. The area was filled with boisterous students--the grove was quieter but for the relentless traffic that passes below it, relentlessly dumping CO2 and particulate matter. That night there was an unusual lot of noise 11PM Hallowe'en. One could sit on the stone stairs which were cut off by the fence. A few cops milled around in the background, embarassed to be there one might think. Without interference I could call up my customary "God bless you, tree-sitters," into the leafy dark and they would generally answer back.
After the first fence came additional police barricades, followed by two fences with the barricades in November. I suppose motivated in part by the long nights and traditions of a Festival of light, around December the University set up its own light display among the stately oaks, a scene familiar to campus for 80 years. This year they hauled in the new anti-terrorist klieg lights in batteries of four, all pointed up into the trees where the little elves dwell. And to run such industrial light and add to the magic two large diesel generators for round the clock air and noise pollution enhancement. They positioned these as well right below the arboreal sleepers.
Barred from the grove and eventually barred from the public sidewalk, my visits fell off. I would get annoyed and start annoying the increasing number of armed round-the-clock cops and other guards. I would yell out "Guantanamo!" from the other side of Piedmont as I walked by.
The excuse now for usurping the sidewalk and depriving citizens the right to use it for protest as well as everyday life was that because the UC cops had arrested people for crimes such as tossing a sack of food or as little as an orange to the tree-sitters--it was now a crime scene. Day by day as I see how a police state carries out the will of a secretive government owned by the wealthy who long ago abandoned the idea of a livable commons if they ever held one. It reminds me of the type of mistreatment of its citizens engaged in by the U.S.S.R. --stories they used to scare us with in grammar school. The idealistic rhetoric touting America's freedom and democracy was piled high in those days in contrast. This was before spying on US citizens without warrant was fast-tracked into the law of the land.
I had been to several demonstrations at the grove that had been publicized--as opposed to the daily struggle and occasional UC-created crises. The recent concerned attempts to continue to provide food to the protestors. A group of Berkeley grandmas had been succeeding for months despite the University's resolve to begin starving the tree-sitters out. When local humanitarian pressure and threat of legal proceedings applied sufficient pressure, UC agreed to provide them with nutrition bars and water, but firmly resolved to end all other supplying.
At this sad event a large number of well-paid uniformed cops formed phalanx to prevent the kindly old flower-children from giving the poor kids in the trees something wholesome to eat.
One of the these semi-starved young tree-sitters went as far as to climb across branches and down a telephone pole to try to grap a bag. The over-fed, flinty-faced cops would prevent this like it was do-or-die. The kid on the pole would then scurry back up un-molested at least. He looked somewhat thin and strained, but he was illuminated by his bravery.
The UC cabal not only built the so-called security fence but built an entire complex of fencing for their anticipate construction. This requires in their scheming minds guards every 20 feet along what is a very long stretch of fence. They are using the unreal cost of such "security" to add to their theoretical costs of delaying construction and in order to gain leverage over the plaintiffs, have asked the court to force the Ciyy and the neighborhood groups who sued to pay all these costs, real and imagined.
As I walked off home that day, I chanted in the direction of these champions of homeland security; "Food and water is a human right!". If I saw a middle-aged one I added, "Those poor kids."
On some afternoon as I walked uphill home, six helicopters were stationary at high points over the Southside of campus. There had been daylight homicides, bank robberies and such often enough these days--I assumed it was a very dedicated dragnet. I laughed with a passing skate-boarding teenager about the paranoid siege feeling such long-duration helicopter grids inspire. On my I learned from a resting street activist that it was an assault on the grove and that the majority of the choppers were news copters filming, co-ordinated no doubt with UC mouthpiece Mogulof and their over-funded police.
It turned out that they had sent in cops with professional-tree-trimmers who tried to grab the kids as the other guys sawed-off the limbs supporting their platforms. A great video image from below shows the resilient and feisty gal called Dumpster Muffin climbing to a little wooden box they built on the highest oak branch and just shaking the hell out of it as a cop in a hard-hat swoops in in a cherry-picker. He backed down.
But UC's recent onslaught of insult, deprivation, and torture had succeeded in reducing the heroic population in the trees. The craven Mayor and Berkeley City council had caved-in, choosing not to pursue their lawsuit. And the oak conservationist and neighborhood interest groups' situations seemed weakened. The Republican party has been stacking the courts with judges unsympathetic to democracy and equality under the law for the less powerful since 1980. And they fought every appointment a Democratic administration made with methodical ferocity. The recent disclosures of Justice department skullduggery in furthering GOP objectives only begin to scratch the surface. Their cynical attempts to make the playing field favor themselves and their cronies have run rapacious and rampant over everybody's everyday lives--especially when you have an exceptionalist corporate entity the likes of UC Berkeley.
Meanwhile Tedford, the coach who must be appeased, the highest-paid individual at UC Berkeley, has led the team on rather a losing streak recently hasn't he? Let's see.
All of this is to introduce the following video made by a colleague of mine who calls himself cheapsurrealist with urging and assistance from myself. In a future entry I'll tell the "making-of-the film" tale.
I miss the Oak Grove.
Those who destroy life curse themselves