Sunday I got up early and went to the Mediterraneum Cafe on the infamous 2400 block of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, CA. Over the course of the day I met up with a considerable portion of my old Med friends from previous years and had a more or less typically great time. All the usual frictions came to a sparkle and flame, and raw emotions were experienced by a few people. But, along with the various pains, challenges and rejections there was a genuine camaraderie in the midst of the repartee.
My close friend of decades, Sara was singing Verdi’s Requiem at the First Congregational church at 2 PM so I planned to get there early for a good seat. But my voice was getting hoarse from talking so very much, so I decided to take a short walk and look at the new huge six-story student housing being constructed just around the corner on Haste Street. As I walked past People’s Park it became apparent that a lot of farming was going on, so I stepped over to watch the progress for a few minutes. I got into a conversation with Michael Delacour, Berkeley’s foremost radical at present. I have known him from a distance for decades, but I don’t remember ever speaking to him. Michael and I got into an extended conversation, which went on for over an hour and I ended up being late to Sara’s concert. I departed our conversation with a great respect for what Michael is doing to make People’s Park and the world in general into a better place. He is continuing the traditional hand farming of People’s Park with the intention of preventing the University from digesting it into their vast tentacled empire.
The whole University of California versus the local people is a huge complicated subject, which achieved a continuing national news story from the 1960s to this day. The fight continues on this tiny plot of ground – sacred to many people – while a University construction crane actually extends directly over this garden. The central focus of this decades-long struggle of the people of Berkeley with the people of California has been on People’s Park and the park is centered on this garden. That park has been tightly associated with Michael Delacour from the beginning to this day nearly a half a century later.
I remember having a conversation in the Med one afternoon, many years ago with Big Bill Miller about what to do about the University taking over the wild chunk of land that had spontaneously become a dirt parking lot. Bill and another person, whom I don’t remember—it might have been Michael, because he and Bill were housemates at that time—were discussing creating a cause célèbre for the parking lot by some sort of appropriate radical action. I am not a radical, but I have done a lot of things that many average people would consider surprising! My motivation has been to do what’s right for humanity, in general. In that particular conversation I was discussing farming because I come from a farm family; I spent nearly all my summers on the family farm until age thirty. I suggested that if people were cultivating the parking lot as a farm then people would soon identify with that land as being theirs. I know that feeling because I had those gut sensations about our family farm.
They thought the farm idea was a good, so someone who lived close by went and got a couple of hand tools such as shovels and we started digging within the hour. It was intended as a short gardening trench in which to plant vegetables and flowers. I dug along with them until it was about twenty feet long, and then went back to the Med for more coffee and conversation. Those people were infinitely more dedicated to action than I ever was, so over the next few days they got a lot of people involved in pick and shovel work.
When I passed by that location today, almost fifty years later, there were people still growing produce on that land. Actually, it is a rather small urban garden, rather poor in comparison to the urban garden in Hollingshead park in Bend, Oregon, near my new home. But the People’s Park garden has had a terrific impact on the history of Berkeley and the US and possibly the whole world. This little garden is a very small fist raised in opposition to the oppressive forces of corporate society, but it is effective. I have little energy for those kinds of activities myself, but I do respect those who do fight to maintain our freedoms intact.
If we don’t support our idealistic fighters our freedoms will evaporate in the night.