Our fight for People’s Park goes beyond just a piece of land. We are fighting against corporate and bureaucratic powers threatening our freedom of speech in favor of preserving our ecosystem, community, and future. People’s Park is a community-developed public space, not beholden to corporate greed, and serves as a focal point for opposition to development projects prioritizing profits over community needs. It promotes local businesses through events and festivals and has a history of fostering community activism.
Peoples Park is located in the 94704 Zip code, with a large student population. The Zip code had more than two-thirds of its residents living below 200% of the national poverty level in 2017. As a student at UC Berkeley that year, I witnessed rising tuition costs and inflexible financial aid policies. Chancellor Carol Christ’s proposal to build housing in the park’s space sparked renewed interest in People’s Park for students like me. As the campus became less welcoming, the 2.8-acre urban forest felt like a sanctuary for students and residents to come together and envision a better future. Students like Mica Bellusci could pay less than $1,000 a month for a shared room in an apartment off campus instead of $1,900 for a dorm room shared with two other students.
Despite the rapidly changing character of the Southside neighborhood due to gentrification and inflation, People’s Park provides a refuge from displacement and a space for community members to learn about Berkeley’s history and cultural heritage. The proposal to bulldoze People’s Park and build student housing was fiercely opposed by the local community, including many students. The park has been a symbol of resistance to government and corporate powers for over a half-century through its sociopolitical activism and cultural events. The park symbolizes anti-gentrification resistance, reflecting a history of activism and advocacy for housing justice and fighting urban renewal.
Although forced to postpone its proposal in 2022, the university has committed to overturning the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which guarantees equal access to community participation in development. Our community is united in its opposition to the damaging effects of climate change, urban renewal, and predatory capitalism. While the park cannot directly prevent climate change or end gentrification, its resistance contributes to reducing its impacts in Berkeley.
Protests, rallies, and meetings are being organized by community members to express our opposition to the university’s proposal. For 54 years, our community has fearlessly confronted UC and the city of Berkeley to protect our park, and now an inter-generational coalition of activists is ready to continue the fight. This is a battle for our city’s heart and soul. Park activists blame capitalism for creating inhumane conditions that promote violence in Berkeley. Many of us are just victims of this system, while only a small handful benefit. We deserve the political rights to freedom of assembly, expression, and speech, and we will fight against systems of oppression that seek to extract wealth from our neighboring communities.
The driving force behind our resistance is our perseverance and unity. People’s Park is a vital public space that provides green and open land to reduce heat and air pollution, has sustainable features that promote eco-friendly practices, and fosters community engagement and advocacy for environmental protection. It promotes sustainability with its numerous garden plots and fruit trees. UC Berkeley’s riot police can throw whatever they want at us. They have not deterred protesters from risking injury, arrest, and even death to protect this historic and vital public space. We are the People’s Park community. We have the right to exist.
Aidan Hill (they/them) is a Peoples Park activist and former mayoral candidate. They graduated from UC Berkeley with a Political Science degree in 2022.