Though the thermometer hovered in the upper 40s and seemed even cooler beneath a mantle of oak leaves and an overcast sky, the crowd that gathered near Memorial Stadium Saturday was anything but cold.
Students, residents, environmentalists and the merely curious gathered to watch and celebrate as the tree-in entered its third week, with protesters perched in the trees overhead as Country Joe McDonald led the small crowd in an enthusiastic rendition of the “Hokey Oaky.”
Wavy Gravy, Berkeley’s unofficial jester laureate, clowned around, poets declaimed, singers serenaded and musicians played.
“It was a great day,” said Doug Buckwald, who has been coordinating ground support for the protesters who have taken to arboreal platforms to protest the planned felling of the grove to make way for a four-story gym and office building planned for the site of the grove along the stadium’s western wall.
“I estimate we got about 200 people to come out, and if you stage an outdoor event on a cold December day and get over 20, you’ve had a good day,” he said.
Noticeably absent from the scene were the campus police officers who had been maintaining a constant and sometimes numerous presence over the past week.
While as many as 13 at a time had been present in the days before, not a single officer was in evidence Saturday.
Earlier in the week officers had cited Zachary Running Wolf, who had launched the protest by climbing up into a threatened redwood during the pre-dawn hours of Big Game day Dec. 2.
He and non-tree-sitting fellow protester Asa Dodsworth had been served with orders barring them from campus for seven days.
Following the arrest, officers had taken up a constant watch at the base of the redwood before abandoning the site before the Saturday celebration in support of the protest.
Among those who showed up were Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore, historian Gray Brechin and two long-time veterans of other tree-ins, Karen Pritchett and Hal Carlstad of Earth First.
The small but determined protest to protect the last remaining grove of coastal live oaks outside the Berkeley hills stands in marked contrast to the last time students and activists confronted the university over a plot of land.
While hundreds of students protested plans to develop the site they named People’s Park in 1969, the turnout at the grove 37 years later has been small—though more than 100 students did march in one Sproul Plaza demonstration for the trees.
But the hard-core activist spirit was present Saturday, represented by graying Pritchett and Carlstad, who have organized similar protests in threatened redwood forests to the north.
Both were friends of Judi Bari, the Earth First activist who with fellow activist Darryl Cherney was severely injured in a 1990 car bombing in Oakland. Bari died seven years later.
In addition to Earth First, Pritchett also works with the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, which is based in Berkeley.
“Wherever we go, we find ourselves fighting for last remnants,” Pritchett said. “Here in Berkeley it’s the last remnants of the grandmother oak trees. It’s the same with the redwoods on the coast, the last remnants of vanishing ecosystems.”
Carlstad, a 1954 Cal graduate, said he became involved in Earth First “because they were the only ones getting out and into the action.”
A retired science teacher, he’s been actively involved in environmental protests since joining Earth First a quarter century ago.
“I’ve been arrested maybe 150 to 200 times,” he said. “I’d get arrested and Judi would bail me out.”
In one memorable protest in Humboldt County, he and Bari were among 1,000 others arrested in a single event.
Though Julia Butterfly Hill is the most widely known tree-sitter, Earth First had launched the tactic first and years before.
“It remains an effective tactic,” Pritchett said, “and people haven’t grown tired of it. There’s something special about it, a kind of bearing witness that captures the imagination of the public.”
Carlstad said he was saddened by the university’s plans for the grove.
“I’m an avid fan of Cal sports, but I think they’re falling in line with the Forestry Department, which was the first to advocate clear-cutting,” he said.
Meanwhile, two lawsuits have been filed challenging the adoption by UC Regents of the envrionmental impact report which includes the gym and other stadium area projects, said Michael Kelly of the Panoramic Hills Association, which represents homowners on the slope above the stadium.
Kelly said the association is working with the city, which is preparing its own suit.