Wheeler Hall standoff ends, students out to cheers

Protesters seated outside of Wheeler Hall as night falls.

Protesters seated outside of Wheeler Hall as night falls.

The final version of this article was published in a separate post and can be found here. — L. Mongeau, Dec. 1, 2009

Updated 9:30 PM

Oakland North reporters at and inside Wheeler Hall are also reporting this story on Twitter: @northoaklandnow.

An all-day sit-in at UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall was ending peacefully this evening, as protesters who had occupied the second floor of the central campus building began emerging in small groups to join cheering crowds of supporters outside.

The fourteen-hour demonstration, which began before dawn this morning as a protest against the UC Regents’ decision yesterday to raise undergraduate student fees by more than 30 percent next year, had escalated over the afternoon, as Alameda County Sheriff deputies arrived on campus in riot gear and set up metal barricades outside the building.   At approximately 5 p.m., law enforcement officers broke through a human chain of protesters and entered Wheeler, where protesters had been communicating from high widows with the enthusiastic crowds gathered below.  A UC spokesman confirmed that the 40 protesters inside the building were being charged with misdemeanors and would be released.

Gregory Levine, an art history professor, who was among the 10 faculty members involved in negotiations with 40 protesters in Wheeler Hall, said the terms of release had been determined.

“They will be released to the group, they will not go to the county lockup,” Levine said. “There are no preconditions for the release. The crowd does not have to disperse.”

Three people were arrested earlier today in the protest, and observers  reported seeing students struck by police with batons at one confrontational point, as tensions rose around Wheeler.  An Oakland North reporter saw a UC Berkeley junior, who had been part of the human chain outside the building, being shot in the stomach with what appeared to be a rubber bullet that was fired by a police officer as the student approached a metal barricade the officers were trying to set in place.  The student was attended to quickly by friends did not appear to be injured.

Earlier in the afternoon, the protesters occupying the building had rejected offers of “partial amnesty” that would have allowed them to be released with citations, rather than arrests. Professor George Lakoff, who had participated in negotiations, had said the protesters can “come out, no handcuffs, no arrests, just a misdemeanor equivalent to jaywalking” if they would voluntarily leave the building.

For several hours, the protesters had responded with chants of “Hell, no, we won’t go!” and promised not to leave until their demands were met.

Throughout the day, they had articulated several demands, including the rehiring of janitors who were dismissed during budget cuts, and  amnesty for the three arrested as well as all the protesters  inside the building.  UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau reported that the persons arrested this morning were two students and one non-student.

wheelerprotest5_mongeau_11202009

Protesters outside of Wheeler Hall on Friday evening.

The building takeover, an extension of the last three days’ campus demonstrations against new undergraduate fees approved yesterday by the University of California’s Board of Regents, began when the protesting students entered Wheeler at 6:00 this morning.  Over the course of the day, the crowd of students and supporters outside Wheeler grew as word of the protest quickly spread.  Several hundred students assembled on the west side of the large central campus classroom and auditorium building, many locking arms as they shouted at people to honor their picket line.  Drums and chanting  provided a constant backdrop this morning to the student and faculty protests, quieting briefly on occasion for announcements from the protesters locked inside.

Protesters outside Wheeler dispersed to the four corners of the building, and no one was able to pass through their picket lines. Police erected metal gates in front of Wheeler to prevent more protesters from entering the building. Some protesters outside threw food — bananas, bagels, sandwiches — up to the protesters on the second floor.

Students with bandanas over their faces periodically leaned out of Wheeler’s second floor with bullhorns, shouting updates on what they described as the police effort to take out the door to the room in which they are locked. Chants included “Rain, rain go away, we’re taking back our school today.”

Protestors at the southwest corner of Wheeler Hall plaza face police from the Alameda County sheriff's department.

Protestors at the southwest corner of Wheeler Hall plaza face police from the Alameda County sheriff's department.

During the first half of the day it began to rain, fiercely at times, but because protesters had apparently been texting friends to bring umbrellas and plastic sheets, most people outside were covered.

“I got a text from one of my friends who said they had shut down Wheeler Hall. At this point, people are saying it’s overdone but I don’t think it’s overdone at all,”  Zienab Abdelgany, a 19-year-sophomore, said earlier this morning. Referring to yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Regents in L.A. she said, “It was an outright rejection of humanity to see a sea of students in front of your building and then to completely disregard them as they tell you we won’t put up with this.”

By mid-afternoon the protest was escalating, as Alameda County sheriffs arrived on scene in riot gear.  Student and faculty negotiators were later sent inside as well.

A protester with a bullhorn outside Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus

A protester with a bullhorn outside Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus

In addition to the Wheeler Hall takeover, protesters at one point planned to blockade the Free Speech Cafe. Fire alarms disrupted classes in Tolman, Barrows and Dwinelle Halls on the Berkeley campus. Djajiijo Bola, a 23-year-old human physiology major from the Bay Area, said his biochemistry class in Dwinelle with Professor David Zusman ended when the fire alarm went off. He questioned the efficacy of the protests.

“I’m not sure what the alternatives are to [President Mark] Yudof’s plan,” Bola said. “It’s almost like complaining without coming to a solution to the complaining. If there’s no alternative to the status quo presented, it just seems like complaining. It reminds me of what I used to do as a child.”

The UC Berkeley protests, like those on many other UC campuses this week, are a response to fee increases of 32 percent next year for undergraduates.  The university’s regents approved the increases at a meeting in Los Angeles yesterday, citing deep cuts in state funding for the ten-campus system this year.   The higher fees, which are to be phased in over the spring and fall 2010 semesters, will raise undergraduate yearly tuition to $10,302 by next fall.

A UC police officer apprehends a protester outside Wheeler Hall

A UC police officer apprehends a protester outside Wheeler Hall

The increases, which regents and campus officials have argued are their only option in the face of diminished funding, come even as budget cuts cause some course and class section offerings to be eliminated even thought they may be graduation requirements for students in certain majors. This has left some students faced with the prospect of an additional semester or year of enrollment just as tuition rises sharply.

“This is an outrage,” Allan Creighton, a public health lecturer who was outside this morning’s Wheeler demonstration, said of the fee increases.  “Easily one third of my students will not be able to come back next year.”

Oakland North reporter Puck Lo, who like other staff writers for the site is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, participated in the protest inside Wheeler Hall.

Oakland North’s Becky Palmstrom, Jake Schonecker and Lauren Callahan have contributed reporting to this story.

8 Comments

  1. joe hsu

    I hate to say it guys. This is pretty shoddy reporting. Instead of adding analysis and context to this event, you just barely scratched the surface and covered this event just like hundreds of other news organizations in the area, and this didn’t even have ANYTHING to do with Oakland!

    Plus, instead of being journalists, you had reporters participating in the event. What does that say about your journalistic objectivity? I don’t want protesters covering the event any more than I want police or university officials covering the event. When news breaks, we depend on journalists to be observers, witnesses and to provide a TRUTHFUL analysis of the story.

    The big question in everyone’s mind is WHY? Why are these people protesting? Do they even know the background issues leading up to a fee hike? The demands by the people holed up in Wheeler were ridiculous. As I watched the countless youtube videos of the protest I realized that these kids didn’t care about the issues. They were protesting for the sake of protesting. It was nothing more than an adrenaline rush and a maybe a feeling that they are doing something important. The problem was they didn’t advance any cause (if there is even one) they didn’t provide any real alternatives to the fee increases. It was all just a bunch of rhetoric, shouting, blaming the “police brutality” causing a general ruckus.

    But who offered this context? Who offered a big picture analysis of this issues? All you guys did was post a “behind the numbers” graph showing Yudof’s salary. Sorry guys, if you cut all of the upper echelon salaries to $1, it wouldn’t be enough to cover the deficit your school is facing. Do you guys even read the news? I mean, you’re GRADUATE students for christ sake.

    I’m sure you guys never read the New York Times, but you really should start. Learn from the pros kids. They know how to write a story. Here’s a good link to start you of with some background. A little bit of research, that’s all it takes.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/education/20berkeley.html

  2. Katy Murphy

    Joe Hsu is comparing apples and oranges here. I agree with Joe that the New York Times analysis piece is excellent, but since it appeared in today’s (Friday’s) paper, it obviously went to press before news of this standoff broke.

    The Oakland North story, on the other hand, was of the breaking/developing news variety — not unlike the AP story and blog I read today on the New York Times Web site, as a matter of fact. (Or this NYT story, of another UC demonstration this week: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/education/20tuition.html)

    Sure, this piece could have benefited from another line or two of context — as most deadline news stories could — but I’d hardly call the result “shoddy reporting.” It was colorful and descriptive. The analysis can follow.

    Oh, and the comment about being sure these j-school grad students don’t read the Times? Hmmm… Reader feedback is important for journalists of any amount of experience to receive. But I think we’d all be better off without this kind of gratuitous insult.

  3. This was a good, detailed article that explained clearly what happened during the day of protest, and what the issue was for the students who occupied Wheeler Hall. Fair and accurate reporting. This article was not compromised by the fact that Puck Lo, a J-school student was one of the students involved. Journalists have a right to participate in social movements, like anyone else. And because of their training, journalist-participants have a lot they can tell us from the inside about how social movements develop. I congratulate Puck Lo on her commitment to the welfare of students and working-class journalists, and look forward to reading her account of what took place. While NYT journalists are pros, the paper does not provide the only kind of coverage we need. I’d like to see something different — more insight from the point of view of the protesters, and more commitment to social justice, not less.

  4. Lillian R. Mongeau Post author

    Thanks to all for following our coverage. We posted a final version of this article last night once all of the reporters who contributed were able to gather in the newsroom and smooth out the inevitable bumps in the rapidly updated version above. You can check it out at: http://oaklandnorth.net/2009/11/20/the-fee-hike-and-some-plans-for-cushioning-it-by-the-numbers/

  5. Deborah

    To see these ‘law enforcement’ officers use blunt and unnecessary force on students, I hope is eye-opening for those Americans who are in denial. Self expression and voicing your opinion are suppressed. We live in a country where peaceful unarmed students face a literal army of bullets, batons, and violent ‘officers’.

    Some of these ‘officers’ must have children. What do they teach them? What sort of role models are these people? Talk about a power-trip- seriously have you seen this video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIN-UBbQlEA

    I hope this makes national news so that everyone can see, and I hope these kids who were beat by these cops (one of the ones in the video appeared to be 250lbs pounding on a teenage student who had fallen on the ground) contact the ACLU asap to sue the crap out of these cops. Or at least get their medical bills covered.

    These cops act like they are doing something important, and brainwash themselves that they are ‘protecting’ something or someone. But reality shows that they are just violent machines with NO thought process or decision making skills. BEAT, SHOOT, STOMP, KILL.

    I haven’t anytime to even express my opinion on the kids who took over Wheeler Hall, this simply addresses the kids and faculty peacefully standing outside.

    I can’t/don’t want to imagine if this happened in Oakland. They would have opened fire with real bullets right off the bat.

    Peace & happiness. It’s just that when you are the peaceful and happy people you get beat.
    That’s okay though, because it goes beyond the physical. And we all know it.

    ~*peace

  6. Richard Schmorleitz

    When my friend, Jack, let me know that students were clashing with the administration, I immediately thought of how it was in the 1960’s at Berkeley–even the Alameda police were still in the cast of characters–they’d have to be the children and/or grandchildren of parents who still believe that Berkeley has to suffer hassels at the hands of the police again. Shame on the Chancellor for failing to refuse to admit them access to the campus.

    an FSM Vet

  7. Doye O Sivils

    $3 Million Carefree Spending by UC’s Yudof/BirgeneauWhy does one of the top universities in the world have to spend $3 million of taxpayer money for consultants to do what should be done internally by UCB Chancellor Birgeneau?
    Who teaches auditors how to audit? Do UC professors not have the knowledge to perform what they teach?
    Having firsthand knowledge of consulting, I know one cardinal rule, “Don’t bite the hand that pays you.”
    In a nutshell, we have a high-paid, skilled UCB Chancellor who is unable or unwilling to do the job he is paid to do. Why do we wonder that UC and California are in a financial crisis!
    I’m sure taxpayers would not object to the $3 million payout if the money is reimbursed by taking money from the UCB Chancellor’s salary over the next 10 years.
    Stop the spending of $3,000,000 on consultants by President Yudof and the UCB Chancellor and do the job internally
    Respectfully

  8. David Stein

    There needs to be a much stronger link made to the entire failure of the State of California to deal with its finances: tuition increases are only a part of the dismal picture brought on by the insanity of Prop 13 and its aftermath. California decided back then that it was too cheap to afford civilization, and so it continues. Now the bill is coming due. It is time for a major overhaul at the state level. Only then will the issue of tuition be on appropriate grounds.
    In FSM days, tuition was $62.50 a semester (including the health fee and student fee).

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