Midnight Matt, the 53-year-old tree sitter, looked out over People's Park Sunday from his forty foot high redwood tree and pronounced it "cool."
It was a toasty, golden-hued day in the park as Cal students hosted their 15th annual "Bear Fest."
What is a "Bear Fest?" Hint: it's not a conclave of four-footed bears. It's a well meaning exercise in town-gown public relations in which Cal. students assume the role of university ambassadors.
Signs attached to tent poles at game booths related the unvarnished history of the park--including an homage to Cal. student James Rector, who was killed in the struggles over the park in 1969.
This was the first People's Park event since the park became a political hot potato in recent city council elections--passed from Beier, to Rosales, to Worthington.
Now the park could do what it does best: just be itself.
But how could any self-respecting tree-sitter fall for all the P-R hype?
Without an I-phone, computer, or any link to the outside world, Mr.Matt inhabits a fool's paradise on prime real estate. He is in his third week of his tree sit-in protest. And although he claims that the university has altered park trees and shrubs, he admits that his main goal is to "stick it to the U."
The university counters that it has not disturbed the plants. "Our job is to maintain the park in order to ensure that it is as clean, safe and welcoming as possible," according to a university spokesman.
Matt's complaints may refer to actions by the university in 2008 that were contested by tree-sitting protests. That protest ended the same day it started when, according to the Planet, "campus police signed a Christmas truce," that spared two acacias.
Mr. Matt passes his time, reading and observing, he said. What is he reading? A guide to herbs, and a children's book teaching the Hebrew alphabet. Now you know.
If only he had come down and mingled. He might have scored a top-dog, one to a customer-- unless he had gotten lucky at the game booths and won some raffle tickets which could be exchanged for more than the allotted pups.
He might have won a video camera in the raffle.
He might have been entertained by all the talented student musicians and choristers. But without amplification, the muted sounds didn't drift to his tree.
From his perch, the scene looked good to him.
Only a Gandhi could have resisted the student's blandishments. More than two-hundred Top Dogs found homes among the homeless and other Berkeley citizens; another 800 went home with the students.
You almost have to give the university credit for 15 years of trying to integrate what Moe Moskowitz called "some people's park." And events such as "Bear Fest," provide a futuristic glimpse of what the park might be, a coalition of students, homeless, and Berkeleyans--as it was at its bloody birth.
Was this "fest" a harbinger of peace and tranquility to come or was it just another romp in the park with a hot dog, or to use Mr. Matt's description, just cool.
Time will tell.
One of the fest organizers observed that the only time students use the park is for basketball. They show up for weekend student events (Bear Fest is an annual event), but you won't see them in the park on Monday. In fact, unless there is a student sponsored event, the students don't usually come, according to the organizer.
Still, the students have attended student events in the park for 15 years; perhaps, because the residence halls give sensitivity trainings in homelessness, addiction, and all the usual suspect social issues.
Everyone wants to do the right thing by the park, but what is the right thing?
Trying to solve this conundrum is enough to drive one up a park redwood.
Ted Friedman has lived a half block from People's for 30 years. Recently, he has increased his "visits” to the park.