how we (almost) saved #occupyberkeley

late at night on the corner of center and mlk, phoebe sorgen and i are sitting in her bumper sticker-plastered car, staring down a city map. it's been a long day. the view from phoebe's windshield looks out on around 100 tents, crispy in the late-night frost that plagues december in berkeley, california.

on september 17th, an occupation protesting corporate greed and the hi-jack of our republic by corporations started in manhattan, the first in north america. berkeley followed suit 3 weeks later with an occupy protest outside bank of america. it is one of the longest standing occupations in the united states.

a lot had changed since protestors first set up here on october 8th. numbers had grown dramatically, and a gradual move down the street to mlk park was undergone. american police had dismantled all of the bay area camps, including the neighboring occupy oakland camps, which had served as an unofficial west coast capital to the movement. we were the last camp standing in the bay.

we are trying to save this cause.

as members of the occupy movement, phoebe and i had been attempting desperately to find a way to de-escalate the violence within the this camp. phoebe is a local activist who spent hours every day volunteering with and caring for the residents of this park; and i lived here.

the occupation at the corner of mlk and center was a bit of a paradox - so much strife bleaguered it, and yet the police did not once raid the camp. in contrast to the violent and anti-human city policies of neighboring oakland and san francisco, the city council here endorsed the occupy wall street movement, and suspended the park curfew to at least give the camp a chance to flourish. the police policy was strikingly hands-off.

but the camp had internal conflicts. a relatively friendly crowd during the day, many in the camp would turn violent and start to brawl at night (my account of my first day in berkeley). rapes and attempted rapes were committed. resolutions made by the general assembly, this camp's autonomous government, were largely ignored by rowdy campers. drugs and drug trade abounded.

the berkeley p.d. received hundreds of incident reports, and eventually resorted to walking through and ticketing defiant campers who refused to stay sober or smoke on the sidewalk rather than in the park. despite the efforts of activists in berkeley to restore order to the camp, a largely alcoholic and drug-abusing population of houseless refugees refused to cooperate. the camp was out of control.

within a few days of arriving, i was working hard to save the camp. i talked sympathetically with different groups, listened to stories and encouraged folks, cooked food, fetched water and cleaned up trash. and i also started strategizing for a new drug-free camp where everyone involved in the movement could feel safe camping.

we settled on ohlone park, a quiet location just a few blocks away. proposals to activists garnered mixed reactions. we moved ahead. unfortunately, so did the police. tuesday night, without the knowledge or consent of the berkeley city council, the police served up an eviction notice - the park curfew was to be enforced wednesday night, they said.

so we blitzed. phoebe and i, along with russ, christine, maxina and many others started pro-active negotiations with members of the out-of-session city council. what we heard surprised us. council members jesse arreguin and kriss worthington informed us that the police were refusing to communicate with them. by the end of the day, we had no grounds to believe that the police would not try to raid our new camp as well, should we succeed in establishing one. our plans began to spiral down the drain.

the police attacked a half-way torn down occupy berkeley camp late on the night of wednesday, december 21. non-violent resistance to the raid led to violent attacks from the police. the kindness and respect we had received from them was done with; the city cleared tents out in the morning.

taunting was occurring on both sides.

it was sad to see the police take immature and violent actions against immature but non-violent protestors. it's sad, but the camp had to go for now. however, i have hope for the future. even though the camp is gone, i know the movement will live on.

i am still trying to find places to sleep for several safe and sober people involved in the movement who were just evicted from the park by the police. email me (joeldevyldere(at)msn(dot)com if you have any leads on that.


  1. Stay cool. We miss you up here.

  2. Keep warm. We love having you with us down here.

  3. @micah: not hard, considering current weather patterns.

    @anonymous: thanks very much.