Born on April 20, during its first three weeks People’s Park was used by both university students and local residents, and local Telegraph Avenue merchants voiced their appreciation for the community’s efforts to improve the neighborhood. Objections to the expropriation of university property tended to be mild, even among school administrators.
However, Governor Ronald Reagan had been publicly critical of university administrators for tolerating student demonstrations at the Berkeley campus. He had received popular support for his 1966 gubernatorial campaign promise to crack down on what the public perceived as a generally lax attitude at California’s public universities. Reagan called the Berkeley campus “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants.” Reagan considered the creation of the park a direct leftist challenge to the property rights of the university, and he found in it an opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise.
On Thursday, May 15, 1969 at 4:30 a.m., Governor Reagan sent California Highway Patrol and Berkeley police officers into People’s Park, overriding Chancellor Heyns’ May 6 promise that nothing would be done without warning. The officers cleared an 8-block area around the park while a large section of what had been planted was destroyed and an 8-foot (2.4 m)-tall perimeter chain-link wire fence was installed to keep people out and to prevent the planting of more trees, grass, flowers, or shrubs.
It’s not a new story at all, as Leon Rosselson writes in his lyrics about events hundreds of years earlier. It seems our lords and masters freak out if we start to take action that implies We. Don’t. Need. Them.
And where does this come from? When I was in Sydney the other week I bought two books, both published in 1970, that had photos from the People’s Park. Here are the covers. Once I’ve read the books, I’ll blog.