(Credit to the Bear Insider chat board for this find)
by Dana Goodyear
Calum Wright did not go to Berkeley—that’s Berserkley, to those who remember the sixties—to be an activist. He is a law-and-order type, reared among conservatives in London, and a member of the crew team, whose tastes run to khakis and polo shirts. He likes the campus police. But, not long ago, Wright, using the latest in protest technology—Facebook—was moved to organize a rally at the base of a campus oak, near Sproul Plaza, the storied place of free-speech happenings and Joan Baez concerts. His cause: Students Against Hippies in Trees. The action: to shout down a former Berkeley student named Michael (Fresh) Schuck, who had taken up residence in the oak seventeen days earlier. The invitation, sent to some six hundred members of the SAHIT Facebook group, from “hippy hater no. 1,” read:
There will be a jolly gathering on this coming friday, providing that fresh is still up there, to stir as much shit as legally possible with the hippies on the ground and our jolly mate “fresh.” . . .
We will be the noisy fucks camping out next to those smelly ugly freeloading hippies. Fresh, who is twenty-six, said he took “a purple khadi, homespun from India,” wrapped it around his head like Lawrence of Arabia, and went up the tree with the idea of drawing attention to a host of issues: the housing of Native American remains in a campus museum; the undemocratic method by which the regents of the University of California are selected; the university system’s ties to British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, and two nuclear laboratories; and, not least, the cause of some fellow non-students tree-sitting in a grove half a mile away, near the football stadium, where the university hopes to build a new athletic center. (The city of Berkeley, in conjunction with two local groups—the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association—has sued to prevent the construction; the judge is expected to issue a ruling by mid-June.) The SAHIT’s position is easier to crystallize. As Wright put it, “Look, come down, you’re a joke.” Plus, he and his friends resent the enormous cost of containing the tree-sitters: more than three hundred thousand dollars in twenty-four-hour security guards and fencing.
On the day of the rally, Matthew Taylor, a fifth-year student in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, who is an avid supporter of the tree-sitters and is writing his thesis about the protest in the grove, arrived to see a crowd of SAHIT supporters gathering around Fresh’s tree. Some of his cohorts had gathered, too, for a counter-counter-demonstration. “I decided that I should try to formulate an intervention,” Taylor said. He prevailed upon about a hundred and fifty students, from both sides of the issue, to sit on the ground in a “dialogue circle.” Wright remained on his feet. When it was his turn to talk, he said, he told the counterprotesters, “What the tree-sitters were doing was completely the wrong way to do it. It was harassing, it was agitating. To be on a university campus when you’re not a member of the university speaking for the university—the whole idea seemed completely aggravating.” When Fresh saw the two groups come together for a talk, he inched down the tree to listen, eventually descending to the ground to surrender himself to the police. “I went up there to raise awareness,” he said. “The job had been done. It was time.” He was cited for trespassing, and booked at the campus station. He and Wright resolved their disagreement with an old-fashioned hug, and then became Facebook friends.
In the wake of Fresh’s arrest, Victoria Harrison, who has been the university’s police chief for eighteen years, sent an e-mail to the entire academic community. “Everyone who wears the UCPD uniform understands that policing here requires understanding, sensitivity, and tolerance if this campus is to remain a hospitable host for the free exchange of ideas and opinions,” she wrote. In response, she received several hundred e-mails, ranging from bafflement (“Personally I have never understood the idea of protesting via tree, but I know many of my classmates find it admirable”) to empathy (“I appreciate your dedication to our safety, and hope that you do not feel too antagonized on a campus whose heritage is somewhat based on questioning authority figures”) and possibly even complete misunderstanding (“I agree with you 100%. I hate those tree people or those crazy people who walk around in Sproul and lecture everyone on the harm of cell phones”), with many smiley-face emoticons. A practical-minded sports fan, who graduated with the class of 2008, began by thanking Harrison profusely, then wrote, “You can be sure that the student body will once again rise to the call of our beloved University. Not everyone is here to practice free speech and be a nuisance; most of us are here to obtain one of the finest educations in the world. Go Bears!”