Two weeks ago, a coalition of urban agriculturalists and occupiers Occupied The Farm in Albany, CA (just north of Berkeley, which is just north of Oakland). This industrious (or should I say, agricultious?) group quickly cleared part of the acreage, plowed it, planted seeds, set up some booths and tables for food and information, and began, well, farming.
It wasn't previously a farm, exactly. It's a few acres of land referred to as the Gill Tract, owned by the Regents of the University of California and administered by UC Berkeley. It's been recently used for agricultural research by a number of UC Professors.
The UC Administration spat and sputtered, occasionally sending police over to threaten the farmer-occupiers, but until now they have taken no action other than to cut off the water supply (a petty act, of which they should be ashamed, to which workarounds have been found). On Thursday, though, things began to happen.
Thursday evening a meeting tweeted as 'sooper seekrit' took place between representatives of the occupier-agriculturalists and the UC Administration. The meeting included "six university representatives and the same number of organizers from Occupy The Farm." What's been reported is that UC negotiators stated that if the group abandoned their work, UC would be willing to discuss allowing them at some point in the future to use part of the track for urban agriculture under UC supervision and be part of new negotiations over the ultimate fate of the entire parcel.
Today, UC issued what is best described as an ultimatum. "Tell us you're leaving by the end of tonight or we're going to remove you, forcibly if necessary." Untranslated from diplomatic speak:
If they ((the occupier-agriculturalists)) decide not to peacefully end their illegal occupation of the agricultural research field and refuse the offer to subsequently participate in the formulation of a plan for continued urban farming under university supervision and control, we have every intention of honoring our committment to ensure the research activities are not impeded, and the rule of law is maintained.I find it difficult to believe that the new caretakers of Gill Tract are going to agree to such terms. People who have investigated the tone on campus agree that trust, as far as the UC Administration keeping their word, or as to what they might do, is non-existent. This in light of many actions taken over protests in the last couple of years and especially in November, 2011 and its aftermath -- when the UC Chancellor okayed the beating of students and then actively pursued having the Alameda County District Attorney press charges against same after announcing a campus-wide amnesty.
The claim UC makes that they are willing to engage in negotiations and are prepared to talk about "continuation of urban farming under University supervision on the tract" has to be viewed with, at best, caution. Abandoning their work will leave them with no negotiating position. Once off the tract, UC can (and probably will) just ignore them like they have ignored countless others in the past who have tried to negotiate to use part of the land for community farming. And if the powers-that-be are willing to treat their own students like subhuman rabble, what aren't they willing to do to
eloi people who are not of the UC community?
On the other hand, I do not find it that difficult to believe that the UC Administration is willing to risk another violent encounter, despite a serendipitous day-old report by a committee created by UC President Mark Yudof following the November beatings. It details why and how civil disobedience needs to be respected on campus and why police should be used only as a last resort, not a first or second. But will anyone in the UC administration listen?
The issue is coming to a head now because, as the ultimatum letter indicates
... college staff need to begin work on the tract in support of faculty and student ((agricultural)) research, and this requires that full control of the property revert to the university... these complicated projects require meticulous supervision and cannot be carried out in the midst of an encampment.In other words agricultural research professors at UC Berkeley need to "get planting" or else their research projects will be compromised for the year.
Honestly though, I don't see why UC agricultural professors and the occupier-agriculturalists couldn't work side by side on the tract this summer. Of course there would need to some physical separation and agreed upon dos and don'ts. For legal purposes the occupier-agriculturalists may have to be "supervised" by UC lest some kind of lawsuit develop if someone is injured, but that supervision could be as light as a feather and pretty much in the hands of those who organized the takeover should UC choose to make it so.
I would have to think that researchers would feel a lot more comfortable with their projects going forward knowing they were working alongside people who deeply believe in what they are doing -- rather than setting up a situation where hundreds of seething activists have been evicted, arrested, potentially beaten, tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed. There have been incidents in the past, and while I absolutely do not, under any circumstances, condone actions such as those referenced, the actors involved need to realize that such nastiness does happen.
In the best interests of everyone, it seems to me its time to come to a real agreement between the parties, not some promised pie-in-the-sky maybe, might-be future.
The tract is at the corner of Marin and San Pablo, in Albany, CA, if you want to view it on Google or head over their for a look-see and give them your support.
4:22 PM PT: Recent tweets. Check out the pictures!
#OO I love #occupythefarm this is how we water plants. UCB'S Chancellor turned water off. http://campl.us/...
9m Alyssa @alyssa011968
#OO #occupythefarm there is plenty to do.going to see how I can help grow food for "the People" #nowholefoodparkinglot http://campl.us/...
12m Alyssa @alyssa011968
#OO I love #occupythefarm beautiful day. http://campl.us/...
4:35 PM PT: Best picture yet:
#OO I love #occupythefarm family friendly. Come help defy 1% chancellor. watering the plants is radical act! http://campl.us/...