Dear Chancellor Birgeneau,
Last year, prior to the start of the tree-sit protest at Memorial Oak Grove, hundreds of students and community members delivered to your office stacks of petitions signed by thousands of concerned citizens, students, staff, and faculty asking you to help save the oaks and build the new training facility in an alternate location so that we could all achieve a positive outcome. We asked for a meeting with you to discuss the matter. We never received a response.
Since that time, the dispute has escalated into a major confrontation that has garnered international media attention and polarized our community. In the absence of dialogue, protestors have dug in their heels to protect a beloved space that is sacred to many people (especially the Native community), while the UCPD has escalated its actions and arrests.
Recently, UC announced its intent to forcibly extract the tree-sitters. As the history of tree-sit protests makes clear, extraction is very dangerous for all parties and involves serious risk of injury or death. At least one of the long-term tree-sitters is a UC Berkeley student. That people’s lives are in jeopardy must be of enormous concern to everyone.
Regardless of the litigation outcome, we support the tree-sitters protecting the grove until UC chooses to pursue an alternate location for the training facility. We also want to hear what you have to say and we hope that through constructive dialogue understandings will be reached, solutions will be found, and conflict will be transformed.
We request an in-person meeting with you as soon as possible. We understand that ASUC President Van Nguyen attempted to initiate a community dialogue on this matter in September, and you declined because of the pending litigation. As you know, the judge is expected to render her verdict any day. When she does, no matter how she rules we ask you to meet with us as well as other concerned parties, such as UC administrators, the UCPD, representatives of the tree-sit protest, and Berkeley city residents. We request that an unaffiliated, neutral third party facilitate the meeting. We believe that the Chancellor of a public university has a responsibility to hold dialogue with students and community members about important matters, even (or especially) when he disagrees with their views. Considering that the oak grove protest has the potential to literally become a matter of life and death, we hope you will seize this opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue. The worst that can happen is such a meeting will not change anything. We hope that at a minimum we will emerge with more respect for each other’s perspectives, and in the best-case scenario we can cooperate to prevent the loss of life and limbs and develop creative solutions.
Recently, Cal public affairs director Dan Mogulof stated, “We are going to leave no stone unturned in an effort to find a peaceful solution to this situation.” That’s only possible with real dialogue.
Current conflicts in the world teach us that when violence is used to resolve a conflict, everyone suffers. Let’s set a better example for our community and the world.
Emma Fazio, Jessica Karadi, Christina Oatfield, and Marcella Sadlowski are UC Berkeley students and members of the Free Speech Free Trees Student Coalition (www.freespeechfreetrees.org).