Homeless protesters occupy People’s Park

James Cartmill, Michelle Lot and Tanis Higgs are three of the defenders of the historic People’s Park in Berkeley, CA, where trees are being felled so it can be built on. Before the protest was raided, Tanis tree-sat one of the trees slated to be destroyed.
PHOTO/SARAH MENEFEE

 

BERKELEY, CA — In defense of trees and people’s lives, a group of people from ‘First they came for the indigenous’ and ‘First they came for the homeless’ and other supporters, mostly homeless, set up a tent occupation at Berkeley CA’s People’s Park. The Park has been sheltering people for decades, since an historic battle 50 years ago to defend it from development by its owner, the University of California (UC), and keep the green space for people’s use. Dozens of people also call it home, a haven from the streets.

Recently, UC announced a plan to build student housing in the park, and began to cut down trees and harass people who lived there. Dozens of trees have been slaughtered so far. One of the protectors, Tanis Higgs, moved onto a platform in one of the trees to protect it from destruction. At 5 a.m. on January 15, 100 to 150 UC and other campus police brutally raided the occupation and arrested six protesters, taking all their survival gear. They were let out of jail at 1 a.m., with no transportation and all their possessions and gear—tents, packs, bedding and life-sustaining medicines—‘held for evidence’ and not returned to them. This is how homeless people are routinely treated when arrested, but with extra vengeance.

This was an interview I did with several residents of the protest camp a few days before the raid. A passerby had given the people yellow vests: they are truly part of an international resistance against a destructive system that needs to be resisted and overturned. The struggle continues!—Sarah Menefee

David Joshua Teague (Ninja Cat):

I left home because of abuse at home and at school, and ended up in People’s Park at the age of 14, and have lived here or in the area, on the streets, ever since. I was considered borderline autistic but I have a higher IQ than Tesla. What could I have become if I’d had the right care? When I got to the Park I met Hate Man, and he made me what I am today, able to talk and organize. We were active when they tried to pass Measure S here in Berkeley [a measure that criminalized homeless people for survival activities. David led a march to City Hall in protest]. UC has several other properties they could put the housing on but they want to attack and clear out the Park.

Michelle Lot:

I haven’t gotten any sleep because they are constantly waking us. They come at 10 at night to say the park is closed, then at midnight again just to harass us, then again in the morning, just for their own sport. We came here to defend the trees, stop the destruction of trees and protect this park that belongs to the people.

Christopher Kohler:

I helped build this park back in the day when I was a street kid. I’ve lived all around here, and now I’m back in the Park to help protect it for others.

‘Spange’:

What we’re being told is that there are several other properties they [UC] have they could build on. But they want to do this one to eliminate the place where we live. It looks like people are going to go to jail on this thing. They took our protest sign this morning. I’ve been coming here for years, when I’m not traveling with my jewelry business I hang out here. I would hate to see this park go, it is my safe place when I’m in the Bay Area. What’s going on is really bad, they are going to be ripping up people’s home. Tupac Shakur says ‘I’d rather die like a man than live like a coward.’ That’s how I feel about this.

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