By Lisa Donchak
Their base camp may be gone, but it’ll take more than bad weather and holiday cheer to get these protestors out of the trees.
The tree-sitters and a smattering of protesters had occupied the parking lot since Nov. 7, the day when violence erupted during a protest against UC Santa Cruz campus expansion.
The LRDP proposes many ways of expanding the campus, including adding two new colleges and about 5,100 students.
Below the platforms in the trees—which are connected by zip lines—a virtual city gradually sprung up in the month after the protest.
The city consisted of makeshift shelters and tents made out of fallen tree branches, along with a couple of wooden picnic tables and even art. The protesters also held informal gatherings dedicated to peaceful discussion.
But shortly after the end of Fall Quarter, protesters vacated the parking lot next to the Physical Sciences Building on Science Hill.
Five tree-sitters still remain in the trees above the lot, including Fred* who seemed to feel more comfort without the student-created “autonomous zone” beneath him. “It’s a lot more relaxing and peaceful,” he shouted down from a wooden platform.
On Indybay.org, Jennifer Charles, a spokesperson for the protesters, explained why the protestors decided to leave the site. “We will be celebrating [winter break] by taking a break from the space under the trees,” Charles wrote in a press release last quarter. “There will continue to be people in the trees and they will still need ongoing support, but we will not keep the 24/7 occupation going.”
Though campus ground crews came in to clean up the area on the morning of Dec. 17, the site is not yet clear of controversy.
Public Information Assistant Carolyn Lagattuta sent a campus-wide e-mail advising students of the dangers of the tree-sit site. “Wooden structures continue to pose a risk of injury to anyone below,” she wrote. “Pedestrians are advised to continue to avoid the site.”
In a separate e-mail, Lagattuta stated that the administration is “seeking a court order that would expressly prohibit named defendants and all other individuals from engaging in the types of activities that have occurred at the site.”
Despite the absence of the camp, Fred said he was still optimistic for the future of the protest. “We got a lot of support from the community over break,” he said.
Fred was in the trees when ground crews came to clean up the area, a process that he said was “pretty scary.” The cleanup took an hour or two and involved cherry pickers and bulldozers, Fred said.
According to campus spokesperson Jim Burns, cleanup was no easy task. “There was a lot of debris that had been collected on the site that was removed,” he said. “There had been a lot of things, like rocks, that had sort of been moved from one area of the campus to [the site].” Burns said that there was even some evidence of human waste on the site.
As of last week, the campus’ Public Information Office had not received any negative feedback about the cleanup, Burns added. “Why would people not want it to be cleaned up?”
But still, opinions on campus about the tree-sit vary widely. Some protest the LRDP and some support expansion, while others just protest the protesters.
Daniel Hansen, a UCSC graduate student in physics, is an administrator for the group “Science Hill Liberation Front” on the social networking website Facebook.com. The group favored an end to the Science Hill occupation from the start.
Hansen said he attended the Nov. 7 protest out of curiosity. “At first I thought I could be with [the protesters],” he said. “But eventually, I began to think that this was something I didn’t support at all. That’s why I left. It just started to be ridiculous.”
When he came back to the protest later that week, Hansen said, “They were no longer talking about the LRDP, they were talking about how to fight cops. They were talking about methods to fight cops.”
As for the cleanup, Hansen said that he wasn’t that surprised that those on the ground had left. “It was probably planned all along,” he said. “As much as a group like that has plans.”
With so many different perspectives, many are concerned about the lack of communication between those involved. Fred said that none of the tree-sitters he was sitting with had talked directly with the administration.
However, Burns said that the administration has engaged in “almost daily” communication with organizers on the site. Hansen, on the other hand, thinks that “The campus has a pretty solid position in ignoring [the protesters] completely.”
Despite their differences, everyone can certainly agree on one thing: the protest is not yet over.
After two months of close quarters, a weekend of ghastly weather and a few weeks campuse closure for winter break, the tree-sitters have stayed put. For the holidays, Fred said, “We just hung out with each other. Same thing we do every day.”
_Names have been changed to protect identity._