Dona Spring speaks out for People's Park:



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A Personal Message from Dona Spring
Berkeley City Councilwoman


Welcome to Berkeley. We are proud of our city with its intellectual and cultural
resources, ethnic diversity, and world-renowned leadership in the areas of environmental responsibility and social justice. At this time, there is resurgence in citizen participation at People's Park and along Telegraph Avenue.

Merchants, students and residential neighbors are working regularly to clean up as well as to plant of flowers and community gardens. We enjoy frequent book readings, poetry and music festivals, street fairs and farmers' markets, in addition to the many unique restaurants and shops in the vicinity which is close to one of the great Universities.

I first heard about People's Park in 1969 when I was a sophomore in high school in a suburb of Los Angeles. Our class discussed why the national guard had been called in to "handle" the protestors. By this point, demonstrations and riots seemed a part of the American scene because of the Viet Nam war and civil unrest particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

I thought that because of these mass movements that we would gradually bring about a more socially fair system and stop the phenomenal destruction of the natural environment. I thought people would just keep on protesting for more justice as tens of thousands did around People's Park in the late sixties and early seventies.

In the early seventies, I enrolled at UC Berkeley and got an apartment across from
People's Park. The sports courts and parking lot had recently been dug up because President Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia had been made public and there were large demonstrations (in one of which I was billy clubbed by a tense [and probably scared] police officer). Tear gas was dropped by helicopter on about three different occasions on the southern part of campus. People were trying to attend classes but they had trouble breathing and watery eyes.

After People's Park had been dug up again, people started making planters out of the asphalt and planting flowers and trees. David Axelrod a.k.a. Salty Dog was spearheading the efforts and the Bubble Lady a.k.a. Julia Vinograd was also involved. I helped do some typing of plans/proposals for the gardens at the park.

Almost 20 years later, riots occurred again when the University installed the volley ball court. I remember coming out to the park after a couple days of demonstrations. The police had used rubber bullets to quell the demonstrators and the city manager had come within a fraction of calling the governor to ask that the National Guard be called in to restore civil order.

By this time, much of the Berkeley community who resided around the campus were angry and upset at UCB's administration's endless expansion into the community against their objections. I had been a participant in a community based law suit that contested the adequacy of the environmental impact report of the 1991 UC Long Range Development Plan. Despite over $150,000 spent on lawsuits, none of the expansion (much of it involving toxics) was stopped.

Until very recently, Peoples Park remained the only development of open space proposed by the University administration that had been stopped. So although many of the more conservative town's people did not participate in the demonstrations, some were glad that people had finally tried to use civil disobedience in protest of the University running rough shod over environmental concerns.

However, just about everyone in the community was against the violence that broke out and were truly sorry that the merchants had their windows broken and inventory stolen and their businesses hurt.

In the last 4 years Peoples' Park has had more music and poetry festivals thanks to David Nadel owner of Ashkenaz. There are more California Native species (including endangered species) that have been planted--thanks in large part to Lisa Stephens who I appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

She is like an earth goddess who has worked tirelessly over the years to nurture the gardens and the people who come to relax in them. The vision of the founders of People's Park in the late sixties is coming to fruition. It is based on a cooperative way of life based on collective gardening, sharing of resources, and service to community.

People's Park remains a symbol of the free speech and anti-war era. On this small plot of land thousands of people over the years have "thrown their bodies on the gears of the odious military industrial machine". To many, like me, this victory beacons hope to continue the struggle for social justice and to restore our ravaged environment.