Sunday, June 15, 2008

BN: Jerry Rubin on People's Park

This "brief note" isn't so brief; it's a somewhat lengthy excerpt from a book I picked up at a garage sale in Fullerton a few years back: Do It! by Jerry Rubin (New York: Social Education Foundation, Simon and Schuster, 1970). From the back cover: "Do It! is to be danced to. Read aloud. Studied. Memorized. Debated. Burned. Swallowed. Eaten." Jerry Rubin went to the University of Cincinnati and then UC Berkeley, but dropped out of school to "wreak havoc" as an "Outside Agitator" in the city. He led protests and demonstrations, advocated a completely new social order and cultural system, and co-founded the Yippies with Abbie Hoffman. What follows is his account of the creation of People's Park in the late spring of 1969; you will want to compare his account with others. Here it is:

In an airport hideaway in San Francisco on September 11, 1966, a secret meeting was held to plan a new long-range operation to "pacify" Berkeley.  Present were representatives of the CIA, the FBI, University of California officials, the state's top businessmen, officials from the Defense Department, five California police chiefs and Berkeley businessmen.
The plan? Simple! Take away the sea from the fish.
The "outlaw element" thrived in all the low-cost housing that surrounded the university, the old, rambling Berkeley homes.
The University of California, which played the major role in the CIA's insidious conspiracy [to rid the city of 'liberated freeks'], planned to buy all the low-cost housing, rip it down and build in its place dormitory buildings and IBM cardboard apartment houses--too high-priced and esthetically revolting for the nonstudents.
We'd have no place to live and would have to leave Berkeley.

The university began by buying the square block of land right behind Telegraph Avenue and three blocks from campus. They tore down all the old buildings to build dorms: completely unnecessary because 30 percent of the current dorms were uninhabited.
The nonstudents were pissed off when the bulldozers arrived. We knew what the goal was: "Hippie removal." We went on our way, muttering.

Then the wonderful contradictions of capitalism fucked up the CIA's scheme. War came to the university with strikes, tear-gassing and armed occupation of the campus by the National Guard.
The state legislature freaked out. Uptight at university officials for not killing the rioters, they slashed state aid to the university. Gone was the money needed to build the dorms.
The land languished as a big mud puddle--a parking lot in the day, a mosquito breeding swamp at night.

Then one day a freek looked at the dismal bog: A VISION FLASHED INTO HIS HEAD!
He ran to see his friends. They mimeographed leaflets.
Within an hour 300 people were at the swamp. Bulldozers arrived to flatten the land. Rocks were shoveled up, green sod laid. After one day's work, a small section of the swamp had been transformed into a park.
A park!
The word went around Berkeley: come and see the new park. A notice was printed in the [Berkeley Barb]. Money was collected on the streets. The next day 600 people were shoveling up rocks and laying sod.
While Ronnie Reagan was reading movie magazines at home, and while the entire university administration was drunk, sucking each other off in the back rooms of the university, people came to create People's Park.
Like a Chinese commune, thousands scraped cement from old bricks which others then used to create winding mosaic paths.
One group built a barbecue.
Another created a playground.
Some people made music on cans and drums, guitars, flutes, harps, recorders, voices and bodies.
Others made films.
Free food every day. Rock bands played.
It was a theater for the free play of creativity, energy and community. All of the art and life force of the underground culture swelling in pure love.
Within five minutes after you'd go to the park, you'd be stoned.

free food.
free work.
free sex.
free smiles.
free sun.
free moon.
free love.
free theater.
free store.
free music.
free dope.
free living.
free park.

Every day middle-class people from the Berkeley hills left their children to play with us. People came to the park to plant their own trees.

Hippies, students, yippies, fraternity boys, sorority girls, Panthers, middle-class people, everybody grooved in their own park.

"Hey, can I plant a corn patch?"
"It's up to you. You decide."

"Hey, can I put some swings in?"

There was no Master Plan. Nobody gave orders. Some people wanted to turn the huge pit in the middle of the park into a swimming pool; others wanted to have a fish pond. Everybody working on the park got together in a town meeting and debated it for a few hours, and voted to have a fish pond.

The university deans woke up and saw what was happening. People were creating a park near the university! Motherfuck! That would attract all kinds of filth and vermin.
Ronnie was telephoned, and he zipped up his pants and rushed to a secret meeting. Two CIA agents were flown in from Washington.
What to do to stop these longhaired beasts from creating a base in the heart of the area the university was trying to destroy? The students had expropriated land valued at 1,300,000 dollars!

One morning at three A.M. Berkeley police arrived and shoved 50 people out of the park, making way for workmen who began to build a fence. By dawn a barbed-wire fence, lined with pigs, surrounded People's Park.
A noon rally at the campus resulted in thousands of people roaring down Telegraph Avenue to tear that fucking fence down.

Hydrants were opened up.
Rocks thrown at pigs.
Pigs released tear gas.
People climbed on roof tops to throw rocks, and police pulled out shotguns!
The critical escalation in the war between the cultures: For the first time police opened fire on white Amerikan dissidents, shooting with birdshot. At the end of the day, James Rector was dying in a hospital, another man was blinded and at least a hundred people were wounded.
The National Guard turned Berkeley into an occupied city.

Vietnam helicopters stalked the city on reconnaissance missions looking for Viet Kong (anyone on the streets) to direct pig cars to club, attack and arrest.
Helicopters bombed the campus with tear gas.
Public gatherings were outlawed. People were tortured in jail.
People's Park became the base camp for the Occupational Forces in the war against the natives.
Tents replaced our playground.
Tanks and troop carriers ripped the trees and shrubs and flower beds.
Crude Army boots destroyed the green grass.
Beer cans and cigarette butts floated on the pond.

And Old Glory proudly few above the carnage.

1 comment:

Tom Hickey said...

Story tracks nicely, but, you wrote "For the first time police opened fire on white Amerikan dissidents." The stuff about Reagan I can make allowances for (he done worse), but to declare sans satire or allegory, that 'People's Park' was a first in episodes for Feds/pigs to gun down white protesting dissidents - so untrue and a dis-service to your summary conclusion.
Just a few examples of the fed putting down lead on just plain good old pholk; Whiskey Rebellion (forget tea tax, Washington, meaning George, done imposed a whiskey tax on distillers and i took fed militia to enforce and collect it. Only the whiskey makers fought back....soon, newspapers, beer, your income, your inheritances, all were taxed.), NY draft Riots, Kentucky Coal Wars, WW1 Bonus Army mass murders, Colorado Mines massacres, Pullman Riots (won labor a one day holiday), SF Dockworkers Strike, and so on, so on, ad nauseam.