On Saturday April 24 at 12:00 PM, community members united for a march from 1921 Walnut Street to People’s Park. The march was a coalition effort by the People’s Park Committee, the 1921 Walnut St. Tenant Association, Defend People’s Park, and the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD) to rescue the park from the University of California (UC) Berkeley’s student housing development plans.
To begin, the organizers told the story of 1921 Walnut Street, a 111-year-old, rent-controlled building that the university also plans to transform into student housing, evicting current residents. The march had purposely been arranged to take place at this location as well as People’s Park, in order to illustrate the connection between the two. “They’re not buying market rate housing to destroy that. They’re targeting the spaces that we need, and that are vulnerable,” a tenant named Natalie explained.
She called the building her “home,” having lived there for 11 years. She had neighbors who had lived in their apartments for over 20 years, and some who had even passed it down through generations. “This is a well-established long-term community,” she described. She spoke about the value of these spaces and what she saw as the UC Regents’ unnecessary and damaging potential choices to destroy them.
The rally encompassed several generations of activists, from the grandfather of the People’s Park movement, 83-year-old Michael Delacour, sporting a white ponytail, to Berkeley High School (BHS) juniors Talia McMahon and Raven Fonseca Jensen, co-founders of the Young Democratic Socialists of America club at BHS. “It is a historic place, and for it to be taken over by developments for housing is so sad,” McMahon said.
Additionally, there were several groups of students from various UCs who discovered the march through social media and decided to show their support for the park despite UC Berkeley’s role and the lack of student housing. Jonathan Garvin, a freshman at UC Berkeley, felt it was essential for UC students to “stand in solidarity with the community and try [their] best to fight against institutions that contribute to gentrification.” Emily Boe also attended the march, joined by four friends, most of whom were in the UC system. Boe too discovered the march through social media, and had been “hearing a lot about gentrification.”
People marched through the streets of Berkeley, holding up signs saying, “Make housing a human right,” “We have a right to live here don’t UC,” and “UC B legit, don’t evict.” When they reached People’s Park, there were a few more speakers who recounted its history. In 1969, the park and its mark of resistance were criticized by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, who went as far as to send police officers into the park. This incited violence, which resulted in several casualties.
Dayton Andrews, one of the organizers, summarized the main goal of this march: “We hope that this can be one of many coalition actions working against gentrification in the Bay Area. We hope it’s not the last march, and we hope that future marches are able to draw in more community support and slowly build a movement.”