Academic land theft, desecration and the dorm-industrial complex
by Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia
It was 5:00 a.m. – the sky was charcoal black with barely some moon creeping in. After I adjusted my eyes, the sight was terrifying. At least 20 armed police officers standing behind police tape glaring at a tent while a houseless man hurriedly tried to collect his things. Another man in a fluorescent vest with huge electric drill pounded a 9-foot chain link fence into the tiny stretch of herstoric Mama Earth known as People’s Park in Berkeley, Calif.
“They said they are soil testing,” said Michael Delacour, one of the handful of revolutionaries who showed up to kopwatch and document this bizarre scene.
“A reference, a brush stroke, a photo, an exhibit, a dream to be studied, theorized, painted over, documented or forgotten and erased completely as though we were never here.” That’s from POOR Magazine’s “GentriFUKation Tours ‘R’ US” manifesto spoken at sites of poor people removal across Turtle Island.
As I stood there on that freezing cold, dark morning my heart was heavy with the ongoing land, housing and human theft, murder and desecration caused by huge universities like UC Berkeley and UC Hastings, Stanford, Temple and many more, along with their adjoining complicit town politricksters.
Berkeley, long known for its misplaced progressive reputation because of the revolutionary histories of anti-war movement, free speech and anti-apartheid struggles, is one of the leading academic institutions currently causing removal of houseless and working-class people so it can feed its ongoing and hungry need of what I call the “dorm-industrial complex.”
“Once samples are collected, the closed areas of the park will reopen. At no time will the entire park be closed,” read a flier they distributed titled “Soil analysis at People’s Park.”
“They are always coming up with some new bullshit to take this park away from the people. We know this Environmental Impact Report is just more of that,” concluded Delacour.
GentriFUKation Tours ‘R’ Us exists to document the theft and reclaim and take back the stolen spaces, memories, images, pictures, lives and dreams.
When I was a pre-teen and me and my mama were struggling with houselessness in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, I heard about the fight for People’s Park, led by radical lawyers, revolutionaries, yippies and hippies like Michael Delacour, Carol Denney, Osha Neuman and many more.
A young woman named Rosebud was shot by police in 1992 when she broke into the chancellor’s office to resist the land theft with a note that demanded the end of the construction on People’s Park. Police officers with dogs entered the house, and one of them shot and killed Rosebud. The revolutionary lawyer David Nadel was conveniently shot outside a club he ran in Berkeley while he was struggling for People’s Park liberation.
“The people built People’s Park with an original takeover of abandoned land decades ago, and UC Berkeley has been trying to take it back since the beginning,” said revolutionary lawyer and muralist Osha Neuman, who also broke this poverty skola out of jail for the crimes of being houseless when I was a teenager with my mama Dee.
“That’s what my mural is about,” concluded Osha, referring to the beautiful mural of herstory that can be seen on the back end of the Amoeba Records wall that faces Haste Street near Telegraph Avenue.
There have been over 50 years of struggle, including riots where people were shot, 50 years of resisting the fences put up by UC Berkeley, resisting attempts to put in volleyball courts and turn People’s Park into dorm housing. Now, they are saying they will be putting up “transitional housing” on the site of People’s Park, which has even gotten the support of Berkeley City Council members – politricksters – so, the fight has never stopped.
Many young warriors, students and revolutionaries held a rally on Friday after the insane fencing went up and, like their foremothers and fathers, took that fence down and delivered it to the UC Berkeley campus.
In addition to People’s Park, the ever-hungry jaws of UC Berkeley are stealing and desecrating homes. Tenants at 1921 Walnut St. were told that UC Berkeley has decided to go ahead and tear down their 112-year-old rent-controlled building in order to use the land as part of a planned massive housing project for transfer students.
This is all happening alongside ongoing housing shortages in Berkeley for low-income and disabled tenants.
“We houseless, very poor, indigenous, Black and Brown San Francisco residents hereby demand that UC Hastings – an “elite” law school located in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco that sued the City and County of San Francisco for its ‘homeless problem’ – give one of the many buildings they’ve bought back to houseless people so we can build our own solutions to our homelessness.” – Excerpt from POOR Magazine’s Land Back proposal
UC Hastings has contracted with private police to conduct 24/7 sweeps of houseless people that surround the three blocks of the Tenderloin they “bought” to build dorms.
I have taught folks with race and class privilege the lies of what I call the “Away Nation,” the krapitalist lure of “college” thousands of miles away from your homes and elders so you can pay academia thousands of dollars to live in temporary housing that is now causing the displacement of the very people you came to college to help, save, study and research.
Sadly, this is not relegated to Berkeley alone. From Temple University to USC, this land theft is common by academic institutions who, like one of my poems says, “Study About Us Without US.”
In other words, they get rid of us pesky humans in poverty but still build entire degree programs based on “geography, sociology, poverty, social work, law and disability” and don’t want to make space for the actual people who they are constantly studying, researching and lecturing and writing theses about.
In San Francisco, POOR Magazine’s houseless, indigenous, disabled adults and elders who are teachers and visionaries of original theory called “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth” led one of our herstoric “Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources” tours to the buildings of University of California, Hastings.
UC Hastings has bought over two blocks of a traditionally poor people of color neighborhood – the Tenderloin – so it can build hundreds of units of student housing with a Land Back proposal.
We say that if you don’t want to see us poor and houseless people, most of whom are disabled and Black, then give us back one of the buildings you just bought so we can build our own Homefulness project, like the one we are currently manifesting in Deep East Occupied Huichin land, aka Oakland, with First Nations leadership and no lie of rent. This Land Back proposal is part of a concept we are actively leading and teaching.
ComeUnity Reparations is something us poverty skolaz teach to young people with race, class and formal education privilege. For us as poor and houseless people, our theory and teaching always translates into solutions, not just more studying.
We also proposed this to the mayor of San Francisco, who was telling the thousands of shelter-in-place tenants that they had to leave their motel rooms in the middle of a pandemic while hundreds of motels remain vacant.
This poverty skola has written and lectured extensively on poor and indigenous-led land reclamation and is one of the houseless mama visionaries of Homefulness. I have taught folks with race and class privilege the lies of what I call the “Away Nation,” the krapitalist lure of “college” thousands of miles away from your homes and elders so you can pay academia thousands of dollars to live in temporary housing that is now causing the displacement of the very people you came to college to help, save, study and research.
It is an amazingly successful pyramid scheme, drummed into youth through the forces of krapitalist media, education and society. Even in a pandemic, you have people living in dorms.
One of the powerful lessons of People Skool is Poverty Scholarship, which we do twice a year. We reverse this violence and begin a process of Land Back and ComeUnity Reparations, rather than flying to cities to study and save us and, in the process, gentrifuk, remove and lead to the death of us.
We are proposing that UC Berkeley and UC Hastings administration grant our Land Back proposals, rooted in ComeUnity Reparations, so that houseless, very low-income and disabled residents of Berkeley and the Tenderloin can live there.
Stay tuned for the next Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tour through Occupied Huichin land, aka UC Berkeley.
Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, aka “povertyskola,” is a poet, teacher and the formerly houseless, incarcerated daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America” and “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth” and co-founder of Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to homelessness. Reach her at www.lisatinygraygarcia.com or @povertyskola on Twitter and @poormagazine on Instagram.