Given its unique history of promoting free speech, Berkeley has become a place where people feel emboldened to advocate for their causes. Since my sister attended University of California, Berkeley, I was able to visit the campus and witness a student-driven protest called Occupy Cal whose mission was to protest against the administration raising undergraduate tuition fees by thirty-two percent. The tuition increase would directly affect current and future students’ ability to pay for quality education in a climate where college is increasingly becoming unaffordable. As a high school student, it is my dream to attend UC Berkeley because it delivers world-class higher education for the price of a public school and shapes future activists. Recent attempts to change Berkeley, however, are undermining Berkeley’s reputation as a progressive place.
The private sector has been slowly and subtly implementing changes in Berkeley to marginalize people’s rights. For instance, in late 2011, residents in Berkeley were introduced to Measure S, an act that would ban sitting and lying down on sidewalks from 7:00am to 10:00pm near business districts. Business owners favor this measure because it would potentially promote a cleaner and friendlier environment that would attract more clientele. According to the measure, people who periodically violate the rules “within 30 days of a warning, would receive a $75 fine or community service.” The measure criminalizes and penalizes the homeless instead of promoting initiatives to help them. The privatization of public spaces reflects the lack of public efforts to supply aid for the homeless through housing, food programs, shelters, and clinics. The measure fails to address the larger systemic social structural that leads to homelessness, including overcrowding of shelters and lack of affordable housing.
UC Berkeley students’ effort to raise awareness about the controversial Measure S, led to the measure’s defeat. Organizations such as the Suitcase Clinic and CalPIRG coordinated the Students Against Measure S rally at Upper Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. Council member Kriss Worthington and ASUC Senator Sadia Saifuddin both spoke about the criminalization against the homeless community. UC Berkeley students protested against Measure S because it symbolized the city’s attempt to solve a public issues with private agendas. Protestor and student member of the Suitcase Clinic Erica Thomas said the city should “expand homeless shelter hours during the day…[to insure] a safe place for homeless people to get medical services and to build their resumes and job hunt.” Giving the homeless the opportunity to be apart of the working class would better suit the city’s desire to increase commercial prosperity.
UC Berkeley students have been known to be prominent catalysts of activism “for turning financial calculations into moral ones.” In 2014, UC Berkeley students rallied and protested against the UC systems involvement in fossil fuel investments. Last May at the Regents’ Sacramento meeting, UC Berkeley students “chained themselves to the symbolic oil rig, chanted calls for divestment and gave a 15-minute speech to the regents.” Students are encouraging the regents to financially divest in fossil fuel companies to decrease the carbon footprint and insure a livable future for their UC students. UC Berkeley students will always be the catalysts for solving public issues when privatization begins harming and threatening the welfare of the public.
With the efforts to privatize Berkeley, a majority of UC Berkeley students will never hesitate to fearlessly challenge any proposed unjust system. These students have an inherent drive and belief that their voices can stimulate change to better the livelihood of their community. This effort to passionately protest is the vital reason why privatization is constantly being challenged in Berkeley. The students’ effort to organize and take initiative ignites the inspiration in not only me but also other future students, who want to demur to any unjust system. Communities should follow in Berkeley’s legacy for rebellion so that others can challenge the excessive privatization that hinders the prosperity of public community.