Much has happened at OccupyTheFarm over these last days.
A bulldozer arrived, then departed. Barricades were set up and a "You Shall Not Pass!" edict was issued for the gates. A lawsuit was filed, marches were marched, we saw dueling columnists promote and diss the Farm in the San Francisco Chronicle, and, oh yeah, the seedlings started germinating.
Urban agriculturalists / occupiers have been farming part of the Gill Tract now for three weeks. The Gill Tract is a plot of land belonging to the University of California in Albany, California, just a stone's throw from Berkeley and a few miles from Oakland. For more background, you can read earlier parts of this tale from yours truly: In Springtime Occupiers Attention Turns To... Farming?, along with Occupying the Farm. The Manure Is About To Hit The Fan, and here.
Let's start with a synopsis in approximate chronological order and go from there.
- Earth Day, April 22nd. The Tract is occupied, ground is tilled, plants installed and seeds planted.
- UC Berkeley responds by shutting off the water supply.
- Farmers and supporters respond by hauling in water.
- UC Berkeley and farmers hold meeting.
- UC Berkeley sends demand letter.
- Farmers send a response letter.
- UC Berkeley ignores response letter, other than claiming it shows "stunning arrogance."
- UC Berkeley closes off the farmed portion of the Gill Tract to vehicular traffic.
- Farmers respond by hauling things in on foot.
- UC Berkeley sends police over at 6:30 AM, threatening tear gas and "chemical agents."
- Farmers respond by donning gas masks they've been carrying around 'just in case.'
- UC Berkeley files a lawsuit, asking for a court order demanding the farmers vacate the premises, and demanding damages. (It turns out that one of the students named in the lawsuit is actually in Peru, South America for the semester.)
- Farmers respond by calling for protest march from the North Berkeley Bart to OccupyTheFarm, a refreshing one and a half miles. About 150 people join in.
- UC Berkeley closes off the tract completely, not allowing anyone in through the gates.
- Farmers respond by refusing to leave; supporters throw supplies and food over the fence. People come in and out of the tract by climbing over the fence.
- A rally is called for outside of the San Pablo street gate. One of the professors who does research on the tract and who believes the researchers and occupiers can work in harmony attempts to enter just before the rally begins; he is refused access by the UC police. His research tomatoes are now officially held hostage.
- UC sends out a notice Friday, May 11th, that they intend to hold a meeting Saturday morning to discuss how the tract can be used jointly by researchers and urban agriculturalists. They state that if the farmers vacate the tract by 10:00 AM Saturday, they will be given two seats at the table, which will include UC Berkeley faculty and students, Albany officials and concerned citizens.
- Or else.
The original entrance.
Marching to OtF after rally at BART.
Over the fence!
The Occupiers and the Police
There have been a few minor skirmishes, but the UC Police and the farmers and their supporters have avoided serious confrontation.
Twin reports -- along with memories of UC Berkeley's November beatings of students in Sproul Plaza -- have likely kept the UC adminstration from unleashing their police force again to use batons, tear gas and other threatened "chemical agents" on the farmers (who include a number of UC Berkeley students). The first report was a devastating treatise on how the UC Davis administration and police totally mishandled the infamous pepper-spraying of UC Davis students last November. The second, commissioned by the head of the UC System, admonished UC administrators to have more "respect" for civil disobedience actions.
Had this been Oakland, there would have been no such restraint. In a similar situation half of the Oakland City Council, the entire Chamber of Commerce and numerous area columnists would have been calling for a tactical nuclear strike within hours, and the Oakland Police Department would have been glad to launch one.
There's a downside to that kind of response, though (besides the radioactive fallout). Activists having stood their ground against the Oakland Police will tend to be, well, less intimidated in general when further confrontations arise. If some of the occupier / urban agriculturalists have in past months been tear-gassed at Oscar Grant Plaza, beaten with batons on Sprawl Plaza, or flash-bang grenaded on the streets of Oakland, and are still around, they're not likely to be willing to vacate at the first sign of police. As one chant that has become popular in actions taken around the Bay Area goes:
OPD Has Trained Us Well. You Don't Stand a Chance in Hell!
Bottom line: I would not expect the occupiers to be giving up easily.
Occupiers and the UC Administration
Let's consider this last statement UC Berkeley issued Friday midday. Beyond the usual bombast, it includes the following
The university also notes that, despite their disagreement with the tactics used by Occupy the Farm, "their actions helped to raise the public profile of urban agriculture and generate constructive conversation about its value."Here we have the crux of the dispute, over both intention and tactics.
The College of Natural Resources, according to the latest statement, was already, "in an advanced stage of planning for an expanded urban agriculture program and the discussion has sharpened the college's focus on getting the program underway."
There is absolutely no reason for anyone to believe the second paragraph cited above. UC Berkeley has, over the last twenty years, consistently and systematically ignored all similar proposals, some put forth by committees the University itself at times has initially encouraged.
Cf. this one
The effort to establish Village Creek Farm and Gardens at the Gill Tract is led by a coalition of neighbors, community members, students, teachers, urban planners, architects, gardeners, and political leaders working to save the unique urban forest and farm land at the corner of Marin and San Pablo Avenues.this one, and likely others. (The first link contains photos showing how dramatically the University has already almost decimated -- in the literal sense -- the original Gill Tract bequest, turning 87% of it into non-agricultural space.)
Furthermore, it is my understanding (see here, here and here) that the entire Gill Tract was handed over to the University's Capital Projects agency -- its fate uprooted from the College of Natural Resources. I have seen neither a confirmation nor a denial of this by UC Berkeley, while claims to this effect are plentiful.
In light of this discussion about the second paragraph, the first paragraph becomes even more interesting. If you care to read between the lines as I do, it is basically an admission that had the farmers not occupied, UC Berkeley would have done nothing about the tract any time soon and, as the farmers have claimed, almost certainly allowed the tract to be lost forever to urban agriculture (perhaps not paved over as some of the protesters have claimed but rather turned into little league fields).
The University may disagree with their tactics, but in all likelihood these (or even more aggressive ones) are the only actions that would have caused UC Berkeley to get off its ass and at least pretend to do something. Recall again that UC administrators have blown off every other attempt to get the University to agree to something akin to what the farmers are asking for -- that the land be preserved for farming.
It's impossible to know whether actually holding a meeting, as they claim they are doing this morning with or without the occupiers -- as opposed to a vague promise to hold similar meetings some time in the future -- is a real gesture of good faith or a sham designed to make the University appear reasonable, or even just a ploy to attempt to get the farmers off the land. But with so much local focus on this, and the possibility of further 'problems' if they don't follow through, their hand may, just may, be forced. Would the community, whatever happens to the occupiers, allow the University to blow them off yet again?
DADT protest, November 2010. One month later -- repeal.
or some occupier-farmers plowing a few furrows and planting a few seeds (the horror!) to speak truth to power.
And who knows where it might lead?
Occupy Wall Street @OccupyWallStNYCWhat will happen as the clock strikes 10:00 AM in Albany, CA? I haven't the faintest idea.
There are 596 acres of vacant land in Brooklyn. We are turning some into liberated community gardens: http://www.nicolecapobianco.com/... via @NBCapobia
Allie123 (alyssa) took the OtF photos.
Thanks to Susie Cagle for tweeting out links to the past proposals. (To my credit, I do have the sense to follow her.)
The DADT protest that the last photo commemorates was organized by GetEqual. It has become iconic. I'm not sure who took the picture, it's originally from GetEqual's Flicker account. I first used it, along with photos of the individuals being dragged off the fence (including our our Scott Wooledge, third from right), here.
#OccupyTheFarm update, #UCPD just read tresspass warning. Good morning! We're all ok. No increase in # of cops. #oo #osf #occupycal #ftp
Take Back the Tract @occupyfarm
The #UC just moved the cement barricade the was blocking the West gate on Jackson St. #occupythefarm wonders #why... #oo #ows #osf
8:42 AM PT: Oh, of course.
8:55 AM PT: Alyssa, back at the farm, tweeting and photographing:
Alyssa @alyssa0119689:17 AM PT:
#occupythefarm #oo #otf police brought bulldozer &removed barricade but police visible presence back 2 average. 1% have a 10am deadline
#occupythefarm #OTF #OO walking perimeter http://campl.us/...
Take Back the Tract @occupyfarm
We are moving camp to the outside of the gate at Marin and San Pablo Avenues. Open visioning meeting for the future of the farm today at 5.
#occupythefarm #OTF #OO Jackson & Ohlone barricade pulled back 3 guards & 1 UCPD in cart updating http://campl.us/...
9:23 AM PT: Looks like the farmer-occupiers are removing to outside the tract in anticipation of 10:00 AM. No idea if anyone is going to the meeting.
Take Back the Tract @occupyfarm
We will remain outside of the gate to assure our crops are safe + until the public has open access to the farm during daylight hours. #oo
9:31 AM PT: Somebody thinks something is going to happen.
#occupythefarm #OTF #OO 3 media vans in front of camp http://campl.us/...
10:15 AM PT: Odd. Very odd.
Scott in Oakland @OakScott10:52 AM PT:
Really?! RT @KTVU: #BREAKING: Occupy the Farm tells KTVU that they plan to leave Cal property, won't participate in talks with officials
Susie Cagle @susie_c11:07 AM PT:
#OccupytheFarm MT @hyphy_republic To clarify, contrary to KTVU story, farmers not leaving. Camp continues going up at night on San Pablo.
Alyssa @alyssa01196811:11 AM PT:
#occupythefarm #OTF #OO music, food out here. pretty day. http://pic.twitter.com/...
4m Alyssa @alyssa011968
#occupythefarm #OTF #OO Correction NOT LEAVING:moving encampment!NO meeting,no negotiations. Calling UCB's bluff. farming continues pls rt
need people! support #occupythefarm #OTF #OO. this was never about encampment. its the farm. support it join us. or it will be bulldozed
11:17 AM PT: Statement by Gopal Dayaneni of Occupy the Farm
We are removing the encampments. We don't need the encampment to assert the right and responsibility to tend the crops. We don't need to camp here .... We're leaving all the things that are appropriate to farming.Albany Patch
We've been discussing it over the last day or so. We made that decision this morning. We're now executing it.
We're still doing our events today. We're creating access points. We're building a slide for kids to get in. We continue to assert the fact that we did on Day One: that the fence is not the issue.
People have invested, and they have the right to continue to farm here. We feel like we have a lot of support for the farm. The camp was a tactic to serve the farm. At this time we don't think we need it. So we're moving it. If we decide we need it in the future, we will bring it back.
The most important thing is that people have access to the crops, and that people can come and go.
We're not ceding control or supervision. We're continuing to farm the farm. We're continuing to ask everyone to come and join us. We've committed to the researchers that we can coexist.... We created the space necessary for researchers to farm their crops.
The university is really the barrier here. They should keep the gates open and let people come and go.
So long as we're under threat by lawsuit and arrest, we're not willing to trust them with our crops.
11:46 AM PT:
Alyssa @alyssa01196812:15 PM PT:
#occupythefarm #OTF #OO marin. command center gone. 1guard http://campl.us/...
Alyssa @alyssa01196812:54 PM PT:
mic check "please come help us weed." people go over fence http://pic.twitter.com/...
If UC gave a fuck about research on #occupythefarm, why did they sign on to a master plan that turns it into a baseball diamond?
Retweeted by Susie Cagle
3m Alyssa @alyssa011968
keep the farm going.we need people. Remember UCB turned water off plants need water.watering plants is a radical act #occupythefarm #OTF #OO