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UC Berkeley's Eshleman Hall was built in 1965. It served for decades as the home of student government on the campus, and a dizzying spectrum of student organizations. Last year the building was cleared of student groups, and of the offices of the students' newspaper, the Daily Cal. Hardhat-wearing crews are cleaning it out this spring. Eshleman Hall will be demolished in summer to make way for a new and seismically-safer Lower Sproul Plaza.

Passing by on Sunday I was struck by the sad-sack state the building is in at this stage of its decommissioning: empty, windowless, closed to all comers by an ugly corral of concrete road-barriers and cyclone fencing. Not that Eshleman was ever the most striking building on campus ... but still.

I spent a fair bit of time in Eshleman Hall myself. From 1984-86 an office suite on the sixth floor served as headquarters for the Campaign Against Apartheid, one of the key student organizations then agitating for full divestment of the university portfolio from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa.

613 Eshleman Hall is where CAA and friends made press calls, monitored police radio, raised funds, set up meetings with labor and community groups, and conspired late into the night. We held loooooooooong meetings in the sixth floor lobby, though they weren't as long as the nightly meetings of sit-in participants during the six weeks of April-May 1985 when students, faculty, and community members occupied Sproul Plaza (renamed Biko Plaza in honor of the eponymous South African Black Consciousness martyr) ... a sit-in instigated and sustained by CAA. Those meetings, held from just after dinner until at least three quarters of participants were pulling their hair out, seemed to run on interminably.

The walls of the sixth floor? That's where inspired parties wrote and painted graffiti, natch. The favorite that sticks with me more than a quarter century later:

Who's guarding the van?
R-- W-- came up with that one, if memory serves. It was true, there were those among us who were prone to inflating the Campaign Against Apartheid's role in revolutionary history. R-- was doing his best to keep us honest.

On the other hand, consider this:

Several years after the university's Regents were forced by protest and the tide of history to divest the UC portfolio of companies with investments in South Africa, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Mandela stopped in Oakland in 1990 as part of his post-prison, pre-presidential world tour, and spoke before a crowd of nearly 60,000 at the Oakland Coliseum. In the course of thanking solidarity organizations for working to end South African apartheid and his own 27-year imprisonment, Mandela acknowledged the Campaign Against Apartheid by name -- yes, our little homegrown campus organization -- as a notable contributor in the struggle to which he and his compatriots had dedicated their lives.

I'll never forget the validation that brief mention conferred on our hard work and sleepless nights. Mandela -- who represented the actual vanguard of anti-apartheid struggle -- was telling us that what we'd done had mattered, had substantively contributed to a liberation struggle on the other side of the world.

And we organized it out of 613 Eshleman Hall.

It would be pretty cool if Eshleman were demolished using this stutter-step methodology, reported by Reuters last month:

But in the more likely event that the building is brought down in a single, booming detonation, I hope to be there to bid it farewell.

Related diaries/posts on DK and One Finger Typing:
The Occupy Movement, Public Space, and UC Berkeley's Free Speech Monument
A petulant landlord's agitprop: politics, art, or irony?
When authorities equate disobedience with violence

This diary is cross-posted from the author's blog, One Finger Typing, where I've published photos that I can't easily post to DK...

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Comment Preferences

  •  small efforts can make a difference (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    was at Berkeley 65-67

    exciting times

  •  This is an awesome tribute (0+ / 0-)

    It's so sad to see the reminders of the precious moments of our lives disappear. Is there by any chance available a fuller retrospective on the building, along with the people who inhabited it and where their ideas have gone, etc.? It would be fascinating!

    Maybe I'm just a little lost in nostalgia myself, but there were moments back then that were so vivid, so real, so full of life. We embraced life and embraced each other, open to experience and willing to put our stamp on it, for the betterment of all. Money and power were anathema to our dreams. Oneness and altruism were valued.

    Today, maybe when I wake up, I'll see that back then I was just "a man dreaming he was a butterfly" and now, I am a butterfly dreaming I am a man.*

    I'm tired now. It's been a long run, and it's not over.
    I hope youth is up to the task.

    *Just using the Chuang Tzu allegorical "man"

  •  I was there too, (0+ / 0-)

    on the steps for months for the sit-and-sleep in.

    I was there when Andrea Pritchett gave the UC Administration hell in front of a SRO crowd of thousands in the gym.

    I was there when Kurt Vonnegut came to the Sproul steps to cheer up the demonstrators.

    I was there when Bishop Tutu came to UC Berkeley's Greek Theater to thank CAA and all the demonstrators.

    Eshleman may be going, but the Sproul steps are still there, and so are the memories of the epic battles of the left, from Free Speech to Peoples Park to Vietnam to Anti-Aparthied to OWS.

    Thanks for remembering those hard-fought days.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 11:59:02 AM PDT

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