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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Health, Housing, and Public Services
People's Park: Adapt Or Fall
People's Park must adapt to survive. A non-idealistic, non-revolutionary mob squatting the Park with no community minded goal is not a movement. The soil of People's Park is littered with the toxic casteoffs of the cigarette industry, with butts discarded in vegetables beds. Queerphobic violence in the Park has been on the up-rise, with several incidences just this year in which queer individuals have been assaulted, or threatened with assault (https://www.google.com/search?q=%22IMPORTANT+NOTICE+TO+QUEERS+IN+THE+BERKELEY%2FTELEGRAPH+AREA%22) People's Park needs to recommit to social diversity and environmental awareness as to adapt to climate change, and economic crisis.
As the situation stands in People's Park, aggression is the rule of law. Whomever is willing to throw a punch has more say to someone who has a reasonable point to make. People who have a collective vision for the land are out-ruled by selfish violence.
Homelessness isn't the issue, which many people wrongly interject into the debate. There is an incorrect argument that violence reduction is a coded phrase for clearing out the homeless. There are homeless people who want to farm People's Park, without their plants being trampled during a fight, or littered with dog waste and cigarette butts. People's Park can provided a fair amount of free fruits and vegetables to those who cannot always afford health food.
There are homeless queer youth who cannot openly come-out for fear of being assaulted; there are many more homeless queer people who just feel like they cannot even live in Berkeley at all for fear of violence. The food lines of People's Park can serve queerphobic violent people, or they can serve homeless queers and their straight allies; those food lines cannot do both. Not just homeless queers suffer violence. A post made on tumblr garnered much attention; a queer individual walking by People's Park on Telegraph Avenue was assaulted: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22IMPORTANT+NOTICE+TO+QUEERS+IN+THE+BERKELEY%2FTELEGRAPH+AREA%22
The population of People's Park is predominately male, as it is frequently not a place where women can relax. The current People's Park culture looks the other way when homeless women are raped. The current culture looks the other way when women, homeless or otherwise, are sexually harassed. Many of the women who are in the park during food services quickly leave after eating their meals.
There is no family atmosphere in the Park. The old People's Park pictures of children on playground equipment, and parents showing their children how to plant flowers are a sharp contrast to the current state of the Park. There are a few children with inattentive, strung out parents that are regulars in the Park. There are many homeless parents in the Bay Area, and People's Park should be a place for them to go. However because of the aggressive nature of the Park, the dog waste, needles and broken glass, most homeless parents don't want to come to People's Park.
Mental illness is another issue which is interjected wrongly into the debate, with an incorrect argument that violence reduction in the park means clearing out people who have mental health issues. There are many people who have mental health conditions who are not violent, and these people often cannot comfortably visit People's Park due to violence. By far, the majority of people who are neurologically different are non-violent and have no desire to be in an unsafe park. People's Park would serve a greater number of people who have mental health problems by having a community which does not welcome violent people.
Even political action is hindered in People's Park. Almost every single attempt at political protest is pushed out by stung out junkies who don't want protest to bring attention to the Park. Political activists are threatened and assaulted. Meanwhile the less engaged Park community members make excuses for why the junkies have every right to attack protesters.
People's Park suffers from a lack of leadership and will power. People's Park can preserve the dignity of the poor and the oppressed, but to do so there does need to be a community standard and a desire to uphold that standard. There are people who claim to be People's Park activists, but they are not focused on the greater needs of the community, nor are they focused on the long term future of People's Park in a changing climate. The small group who claim to be the voice of the Park are typically focused on maintaining the ever degrading status quo; meeting only the needs of a small but increasingly aggressive mob. The current status quo doesn't teach any one new skills, promote diversity, nor does it use the land effectively or responsibly. It is obvious that there are park activists who are unwilling to admit things are not working out; who are more concerned about personal pride than community health.
People's Park should look towards the Native "Idle No More" movement, which seeks to promote the dignity of all people, as well as the dignity of the environment. As well, Occupy the Farm can serve as a model for the future of People's Park. The land can be a sanctuary for the poor and the oppressed while refusing to allow People's Park to be a stage of violence.
As the effects of climate change increase, and as the American economy continues to stagnate, People's Park needs to adapt to be a greater community asset. As it stands, a small group of disjointed activists are serving a small group of increasingly selfish and apathetic group of people who claim the park as turf, as opposed to being an open park. People's Park would better serve the community if the park undergoes radical change.
In the past couple of years every major change done to People's Park was done by the UC and private business owners, because the current group of People's Park activists has no vision other than to maintain the grim, violent status quo. The current group of organizers have lost credibility and lost bargaining power, as well as losing the support of the community who don't want to associate with a strung-out, misogynistic, queerphobic mob. Salvaging People's Park may even require rejecting and denying any of the alleged activists who are serving their own pride as opposed to the common good. People's Park can continue to slip and lose what little autonomy it has left, or it can adapt.
There are no youth activists in People's Park, and the current group of aging community members might want to reflect on their own attitudes and actions as to realize that the Park needs to change.