Save People’s Park: An Open Letter to the City Council of Berkeley, CA

(The University of California and the City of Berkeley are cutting down trees, removing people and putting up fencing around Berkeley’s People’s Park as I write.  Protests are building against these actions.  The Berkeley City Council is voting on an item that would lift Berkeley’s ban on the use of chemical weapons by police. If you wish to oppose this, please email the Berkeley City Council before 7:00 PM PDT.  Here is the email address:

Good day,

To begin with, I am angry and appalled that the situation around People’s Park has reached its current point. I am even angrier that the City Council has been actively complicit in the current attempt to destroy the Park. To add to this anger is the item on the Council’s August 4 meeting agenda to temporarily lift the city’s ban on the use of harmful chemical agents (tear gas and pepper spray,etc ) against other humans. The timing of this council discussion makes it clear that the police have demanded they be allowed to use whatever force they desire against park users and supporters still trying to prevent the park’s destruction.  The fact the police have pushed this onto the agenda proves that those intent on destroying the Park know they have no valid moral or even practical defense for their actions.  So, like they have so many times before, the University of California, developers, various powerful groups and individuals in the East Bay and elsewhere are turning to brute force to get their way.

What, you may wonder, is my interest in this?  After all, I live across the country in Vermont.  Why should I care about a park being destroyed in the city of Berkeley, California?  Let me tell you.  I lived in the East Bay from 1978 through 1984.  I spent hours and hours in People’s Park—attending concerts, planting trees and bushes, enjoying the company of other humans and just hanging out.  I was one of several individuals who worked with the Park Committee to keep the park clean and as safe as possible.  Some friends and I even published an occasional newspaper called The People’s Park Press for a couple years.  That paper provided news, commentary and announcements about the Park, the surrounding community and the greater world.  It was distributed throughout the city.

I was present in 1979 when the University tried to install a paid parking lot at the west end of the Park.  After the bulldozers came and destroyed the space, UC and Berkeley police showed up in full riot gear early the next day.  I watched then Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport arrive and tell the Berkeley police to stand down and go back to their regular duties.  He had the support of much if not most of the City Council.  That was during a time when the City Council represented residents and not real estate interests.  Hundreds of city residents and park supporters from all walks of life occupied the park for several weeks afterwards.  There were barbecues, plantings of plants donated by nurseries and individuals, concerts and picnics. It was because of this series of protests that an agreement was reached between the City, the University and the People’s Park Committee which stood until the next time the University tried to grab the park in 1991.

In addition to my personal connection to Peoples Park—a connection people the world over can empathize with—I believe the Park must remain a park because of its essential purpose providing green space and comfort in Berkeley’s South End, just off Telegraph Avenue.  Then, there is the symbolism of People’s Park.  Created, maintained and loved by regular folks for over five decades, it is an acre and a half of living history—of a time when the powerful and the greedy were called to answer for their destruction and devastation.  I believe this symbolism is what the University and its allies wish to destroy; that this is the reason they insist on building new housing in the Park when multiple other properties exist for such construction and while it plans to destroy existing housing not far away.

Once again, I call on your consciences to reject the request to lift the ban on chemical agents like tear gas and pepper spray.  Your support for the destruction of People’s Park does not have to be underlined by supporting the use of weapons of war against those determined to save the Park from the University’s greed and lust for control.

-Ron Jacobs, writer and journalist

Long Live People’s Park!

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: