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Friday, November 20, 2009

A Primer For Those Curious About Today's U.C. Berkeley Protests

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 7:59 AM

click to enlarge Wheeler Hall
  • Wheeler Hall
Anyone glancing at a television or computer is likely well-aware by now that students have barricaded themselves within a building on the U.C. Berkeley campus. It's a wise move; by this time next year they'll be unable to afford the bike locks, placards, or ASCAP royalties for "What do we want?"-chants.

Glancing at the KTVU Channel 2 news moments ago, an anchorman pulled up the school's campus map, explained where Wheeler Hall is in relation to other campus buildings. That's nice, but it doesn't really tell the whole story.

Well, it's always a pleasure to use the benefits of your college education to further your chosen career -- so let me add quite a bit more. And let me also add a warning. Back when I went to U.C. Berkeley -- not so long ago, but tuition and fees were around 38 percent what yesterday's massive hike stands to make them -- people used to make a point of gathering at Wheeler Hall on moist, rainy days like this. Since the building is located on a small incline, the schadenfreude crowd would wait for someone to, inevitably, slip and fall on the deceptively slick storm drain in front of Wheeler. This kind of thing could certainly ruin some cop or protester's day (but entertain everyone else).

Off the top of my head, I can tell you that Wheeler's main auditorium holds 760 people; after the closure of the U.C. Theatre, local film festivals began holding their Berkeley screenings there. So, this is a very large building housing many large lecture hall classes and dozens of discussion sections; you rob banks because that's where the money is and you take over Wheeler Hall because that's the way to make the biggest impression on fellow students and the media.

So that makes Wheeler one of the most favorable buildings to seize whenever students wish to make a statement. In 2002, pro-Palestinian demonstrators took over the hall; ubiquitous protester Roberto Hernandez was accused of biting a police officer (he was acquitted). Last year, two men occupied a tree outside Wheeler. Classes were disrupted during affirmative action protests in the 1990s, and the building was occupied by anti-Apartheid demonstrators in the 1970s.

A quick glance at the above also reveals that while seizing Wheeler gets attention, it almost always doesn't get you what you want (and, when those causes prevailed, it took decades). Sadly enough, one could argue which is the more hopeless cause: peace in the Middle East or solvency in California and affordable college tuition for excellent public universities.

Good luck, students.

Photo   |   Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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