Campus cops move to enclose Occupy the Farm

The UC Berkeley strategy with the occupation of the university’s Gill Tract agricultural plot is beginning to look more and more like the same game plan used against the nation’s longest-ever urban tree-sit.

The tree-sit, launched on the day of the Big Game between Cal and Stanford 2 December 2006, ended on 9 September 2008.

That protest was launched to protect a grove that stood in the way of the university’s plans for a new high tech $200 million gym on the site and for renovation of California Memorial Stadium, which sits directly astride the Hayward Fault — the seismic rupture the U.S. Geological survey designates as the most likely site of the San Francisco Bay Area’s next major earthquake.

Before the final bills are paid, the total costs will run over a billion dollars.

Occupy the Farm protesters are fighting to save the East Bay’s last remaining plot of prime agricultural land from university development plans.

The tract was once home to the nation’s premiere agroecology research center, which sought to control farming pests with natural rather than chemical means.

The last agroecologist left on the site, Professor Miguel Altieri, was planting dry farming tomatoes today with the help of volunteers from the occupation.

Today was also the day UC Berkeley police closed off the site from vehicle access, the first step in a process of enclosure we suspect will follow the same basic pattern deployed against the treesitters.

In the tree-sit, as in the Gill Tract occupation, the university began by containing the site with fencing to keep out additional tree-sitters and deprive them of supplies. Only after a civil suit began challenging the university’s development plans did the campus cops finally allow the protesters to be supplied with food and water.

Today the university launched a similar action, as Chris De Benedetti of the Oakland Tribune reports:

Police on Wednesday morning blocked vehicle access to a UC Berkeley-owned farm that protesters have occupied for more than two weeks.

Several officers arrived at the farm at 6 a.m. and announced they were blocking the Jackson Street entrance to the property, said Ashoka Finley, a spokesman for the group calling itself “Occupy the Farm.”

While police erected a concrete barrier at the entrance, other officers patrolled the surrounding streets in vans and motorcycles, said Finley, who teaches urban agriculture at Richmond High School.

“It seems like this might be a slow-motion raid,” he said. “Part of the UC tactics is to flex their muscle.”

No arrests have been made and none of the protesters have been removed, UC Berkeley police Lt. Eric Tejada said.

Read the rest.

Aggressive law enforcement began with a flurry of trespassing citations and stay-away orders barring the protesters from campus.

A fence followed, with a long delay in action as the lawsuit played out.

Police made periodic raids inside the fence, occasionally with cherry pickers to pluck protestors from their arboreal havens.

The final action was preceded by a chainsaw squad and the cutting of 40 of the 41 trees slated for demolition, leaving the last tree housing the last four tree-sitters [click on the image to enlarge].

8 September 2008, Nikon D300, ISO 1000, 10.5mm, 1/2500 sec, f/9

One the final day, construction crews erected scaffolding around redwood as a crowd watched.

9 September 2008, Nikon D300, ISO 640, 230mm, 1/100 sec, f/10

Then-UC Berkeley Police Chief Victoria Harrison had herself delivered by crane-suspended basket to make one last demand that the tree-sitters leave.

9 September 2008, Nikon D300, ISO 400, 102mm, 1/250 sec, f/11

The last tree-sitter gave a gesture of defiance as police approached up the staircase built into the scaffolding.

9 September 2008, Nikon D300, ISO 640, 270mm, 1/1600 sec, f/10

After his surender came the inevitable perp walk.

9 September 2008, Nikon D300, ISO 400, 135mm, 1/125 sec, f/11

Once they’d surrendered, the chainsaws were out again and the tree was felled.

We suspect the university will trying a similar strategy: Completely containment followed by a police action to remove the occupation.

The barricades are up and the university is getting ready to move in. The only question is when.

Latest statements from Occupy the Farm and Cal

First the Occupy the Farm’s response to the police blockade:

At 6:30 AM this morning, several dozen UC police officers brought a bulldozer to the Gill Tract, deposited large concrete barriers at gated entrances to the Gill Tract Farm, and U-Locked the gates shut.  They threatened people with “chemical agents and impact force”, and appeared prepared to bulldoze and destroy the farm. Community members immediately mobilized to defend the farm, walking past police lines and hopping fences to get into the tract. The police since removed the bulldozer, but the entrances remain blocked to vehicular traffic.  People are still able to enter and leave the farm on foot, however, and there have been no arrests.

The UC Administrators timed this police action to coincide with Professor Miguel Altieri’s planting of his research crops, which was to proceed as scheduled, with assistance and cooperaton of the Gill Tract Farmers Collective.   Despite the police blockade and intimidation tactics, Professor Altieri brought his tomato plants onto the Tract and held a press conference, and then with assistance from Gill Tract Farmers and community members, officially began the planting of his research areas.

The Gill Tract Farm Collective calls on all supporters to mobilize tonight May 9th, and get to the farm by this evening prepared to stay overnight to defend it from any impending police raid.   Reconvergence plans have been announced: if UCPD removes the farmers from the land, the following evening we will gather en masse at the Albany Community Center on 1249 Marin Avenue at 5pm, and march to the Gill Tract to take back the space.   Supporters that cannot come to the farm are urged to make phone calls to UCPD at 642-3333 and to UC Spokesperson Dan Moglof at 510-919-6954 to demand that they lift the blocade and stop lying to the media.

Next, their position statement:

Gill Tract Farmers Collective Responds to UC Ultimatum

The Gill Tract Farmers Collective would like to issue the following statements to the press and the public:

1) Regarding media reports about dialogue between the Gill Tract Farmers Collective and the University of California:

We dispute the veracity of media reports claiming that we failed to respond to the UC’s request for dialogue on Saturday. Dan Siegel, legal counsel for Occupy the Farm, says, “The University’s statement that we failed to contact them on Saturday is incorrect.” In a message to University counsel Chris Patti on Saturday, Siegel wrote, “We were concerned about the potential for a police attack tonight. The farmers are committed to constructive dialogue to resolve the issues raised in our meeting on Thursday. A police action would create serious problems for us and for UC, especially in light of the university’s recently announced plan to adopt less violent police tactics. As you know, our process requires careful consultation with a large number of people. Nonetheless, we will provide you with a comprehensive proposal to resolve UC’s concerns on Monday.”

2) Regarding the resolution of the current conflict over access to and use of the Gill Tract:

The Gill Tract Farmers Collective looks forward to addressing our mutual concerns around the unimpeded work of the Gill Tract researchers. We understand that the nature of genetic research necessitates extra precautions for the security of those experiments. When the University presents a concrete proposal that satisfies the following concerns, we will break down the camp so that the researchers have access to their plots. The concerns are:

That municipal water at the Gill Tract be made available to us.
That the Farmer’s Collective and larger community have access to the field in order that we may:

a) Tend to the crops we have planted on the East side of the field.
b) Maintain the Children’s garden in the northwest corner of the tract, as well as the BASIL seed bank homecoming site on the edge of the west field.
That in order to protect the organic food crops, the long-term health of the soil, the beehive, as well as the neighbors, including children and families, the researchers/the University refrain from the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizer or plastic tarp in the soil on the farm.

We continue to be willing to facilitate this transition process for the researchers, and to work jointly toward such tasks as the construction of new fences or gates that would allow for our access to the locations referenced in Condition 2, so long as these conditions are met. We look forward to further discussion around how to make this a truly collaborative process for all stakeholders in the Gill Tract. This includes not only the Albany community, the Gill Tract Farmer’s Collective, and UC Berkeley, but also the residents of the greater East Bay. Because of its unique location in a thriving urban area, any future use of the Gill Tract has an immediate impact on East Bay food sovereignty, equity, and access issues. We hope that more consideration for the time that is necessary to facilitate an open community dialogue is respected and that the UC ceases to levy ultimatums such as the one issued on Friday, May 4th.

3) Regarding our vision:

Our original vision in occupying this parcel of land, the last and best soil in the urban East Bay, was to preserve the entirety of the Gill Tract as agricultural land not only for a single growing season, but in perpetuity. This vision persists. Farmland is for farming.

And here’s the latest position statement from the university:

Last Thursday we met with representatives of the group currently occupying university-owned land that is used for agricultural research. We discussed steps that would allow for a peaceful end to the illegal occupation; a resumption of critical research work; and a continuation of urban farming on that part of the land that will not be utilized by our faculty and students. Our proposal is based on these simple, straightforward steps:

1. A voluntary and permanent dismantling of the tent city.

Why: Our faculty have made it clear that research requiring meticulous supervision and attention to detail cannot be conducted in the midst of an encampment populated by individuals who do not have the knowledge, experience or, for that matter, the legal rights that would justify or warrant their around-the-clock presence.

2. A restoration of university control and supervision over the land.

Why: As the owner of the property the university has legal liability and accountability for what happens on the land. We also cannot countenance the establishment of any precedent whereby a forceful seizure of property establishes a right to unilaterally dictate how the university conducts its research and educational activities. Free, unsupervised public access is simply incompatible with the environment and conditions necessary for complex agricultural research.

3. A resumption of water supply once the first two steps are completed.

Why: We believe in the principle of reciprocity and, as supporters of urban farming, desire to preserve as much of what has already been planted as possible.

4  An initiation of detailed conversation and planning, led by the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, on sustaining urban farming alongside agricultural research. These discussions would also need to be broad-based, including all interested parties from the surrounding community.

Why: We have determined that the land can be shared in the context of our support for urban farming. We also will not disenfranchise members of the Albany community who, in recent years, have spent a good deal of time and effort working with us in a collaborative planning process designed to ensure that future use of the land reflects and addresses the needs and interests of our neighbors.

5. While this dialogue occurs best efforts will be made, under the supervision of the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, to protect the planting that has occurred as long as it does not interfere with the faculty’s research.

Why: We believe this is the best and only way to balance and coordinate two very different agricultural endeavors on a single parcel of land.

In our opinion this is what a win-win-win result would look like in that the proposal addresses the needs and interests of our faculty and students, the Albany community and those interested in urban farming. The door remains open to a peaceful resolution based on this proposal, and we will be ready to step back from any effort to hold the occupiers accountable, in terms of civil or criminal legal actions, if it is accepted.

In this context we received with disappointment and dismay the occupiers’ response that was published last night. We find it very difficult to understand the moral, legal or intellectual basis for demands that would put a self-selected group in a position to dictate how, when and where our faculty conduct important research to which they have dedicated their professional lives. There is also a stunning degree of arrogance and entitlement inherent in this group’s demands and statements about what they are “willing” to do for our researchers. There is no legal or moral foundation for this attempt by individuals involved in an illegal and forceful seizure of property to dictate terms.

Those who have been following developments since the occupation began on April 22nd know that we have been patiently seeking a peaceful conclusion through constant dialogue with members of the encampment. The Dean and faculty from the College of Natural Resources have been frequent visitors to the site, and have made every effort to engage, explain and explore the possibility of compromise. At the same time we are and will remain accountable to our neighbors in Albany–including parents of children who attend the elementary school adjacent to the tent city–who are, in growing numbers, asking that we take steps to regain control of our property.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the continuation of this occupation threatens a principle that lies at the heart of any institution of higher education: academic freedom. A growing number of our faculty are insisting that we preserve their right to pursue their educational and research interests without interference from a self-selected group of squatters. As the Chair of our Academic Senate recently said, “If there is no way to reach a win-win resolution, then I believe that the faculty’s freedom to do their planned research must be supported as a key principle….we must stand by this.” Our commitment to preserve academic freedom is part and parcel of who we are as one of the leading research universities in the world. Whether it is in the areas of health, agriculture, public policy, human rights or engineering, the preservation of academic freedom is non-negotiable.

So, where does that leave us? While we will continue to leave the door open to an acceptance of our proposal that would allow the illegal occupants to leave the land without consequence, the university has no choice but to take the steps necessary to enforce our legal rights, protect academic freedom, preserve the collaborative community-based planning process and work with our law-abiding neighbors who share our interest in finding a way to allow for peaceful coexistence of urban farming and agricultural research on the Gill Tract.

Our position since the beginning of the occupation and our decision to now pursue other remedies arise from a careful, broad-based decision-making process that includes senior administration leaders, the Chair of our Academic Senate and other members of faculty, the Deans of the College of Natural Resources and the Graduate Division, UCPD, Student Affairs and Community Relations. This statement is fully supported by all of the above.

The occupiers’ response to our proposal has made it very clear that they still intend to hold our property and research projects hostage, refusing to relinquish control unless we submit to their demands. We still, however, hold out hope that in the days ahead cooler heads will prevail and they will agree to accept their portion of the win-win-win proposal we have offered before the non-negotiable need of our researchers to begin work forces our hand.

George Breslauer
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

John Wilton
Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance


2 responses to “Campus cops move to enclose Occupy the Farm

  1. Pingback: University strikes back against Occupy the Farm | Grist

  2. Pingback: University strikes back against Occupy the Farm |

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