Berkeley tree-sit nears 500 days

An ongoing occupation of threatened oak trees on the campus of UC Berkeley reached its 485th day March 30. Perversely, the grove of some 90 California oaks was planted in 1923 as a memorial to Californians who lost their lives in World War I, adjacent to the university’s Memorial Stadium. But UC now plans to destroy most of the trees to build an athletic training facility. Activists maintain the site is also an Ohlone Indian burial ground, noting remains found there when the stadium was built in the ’20s. The campaign has taken on several demands beyond preservation of the threatened grove, including:

*Repatriation of 13,000 Native remains held at the university’s Phoebe Hearst Museum, collected by anthropologist across California;
*An end to UC involvement in nuclear weapons design and research;
*Preservation of Strawberry Canyon, a green belt where the grove and stadium are located, and which also hosts Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories—an Energy Department-funded research facility dating to the Manhattan Project, and now slated to expand with a nanotech lab dubbed the “Molecular Foundry”;
*Cancellation of a BP-funded “biofuels” research facility on campus;
*Fair wages for UC workers, an end to student fee hikes, democratic election of the UC Board of Regents.

Supporters gather outside the Memorial Stadium every afternoon at 2 to send food to the tree-sitters via pulleys. Three sitters currently occupy the trees, but some 400 have participated since the occupation was launched in December 2006—including Berkeley’s former mayor, Shirley Dean, 71. Some 200 have also been arrested or received citations from campus police for supporting the tree-sitters with a ground-level vigil, providing food and other logistical help.

Bill Weinberg on the scene.