Only in Berkeley: Tree Sitters Accused of Racism

This is a story that could only happen in Berkeley---militant tree sitters accused of racism. And the funniest part is that the Berkeley Daily Planet reported this story with a completely straight face as if tree sitters are some sort of a legitimate group like Teamsters or Ruthenian-Americans (Tom Selleck is one). It seems that the tree sitters (union or non-union?) have been living up in the Berkeley trees for almost two years protesting the construction of a high-tech gym at the UC Berkeley campus. You can see a video of the "wonderful" life of these tree sitters in the upper right. Meanwhile the Daily Planet reports on the racism charge leveled against the tree sitters:

“[R]acism against our minority student athletes ... underlies much of the opposition to our student athlete high performance center,” declared UC Berkeley Chancel-lor Robert Birgeneau in a letter sent to two major donors to the school.

That allegation in a June 27 letter stunned the recipients, Berke-ley residents and long-time university donors and supporters Thomas and Janice Boyce.

The appearance of the letter, given to this newspaper by a third party, comes as the campus is launching the public phase of a $3 billion endowment fund-raiser, with Birgeneau in the lead.

The chancellor’s letter followed earlier letters from the couple questioning the university’s handling of the tree-sit protest at the now-leveled grove at Memorial Stadium, as well as the expense of rehiring campus police chief Victoria Harrison.

I guess Berkeley is so short of conservatives to level the racism charge at that they now have to resort to hurling this accusation at tree sitters. A lawyer defending the tree sitters called the charge "beyond bizarre." And to be "beyond bizarre" in Berkeley means to be in another dimention beyond time and space:

Stephan Volker, one of the attorneys who challenged the university’s plans to level the grove to build the four-level high-tech gym and office complex, called Birgeneau’s claim “beyond bizarre.”

“It seems the university will leave no stone unturned to smear anyone who disagrees with their policies,” said the attorney, who briefly attended the school himself and whose spouse and a son received Cal degrees.

It appears that politicians in Berkeley need to seek the all-important tree sitter vote because one of the city council members ascended into the arborial heights to show her solidarity with that group:

“Birgeneau went off my list right there,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Betty Olds when told of the chancellor’s allegation. Olds had been a tree-sit supporter and ascended the branches briefly early in the 21-month-long fight to save the grove of coastal live oaks, redwoods and others trees.

“That was absolutely stupid,” Olds said of Birgeneau’s remark, “And to say that here in Berkeley!”

Why should this city council member be surprised by the racism charge? It is made at plenty of other campuses. The only difference is that in Berkeley it was leveled at tree sitters.

Although the tree sitters were accused of racism, they can't be guilty of age discrimination. You can even be in your nineties and sit way up in a tree:

Sylvia McLaughlin, a nonagenarian and the oldest of the tree-sitters, whose late spouse served as dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Mining and as first dean of the College of Engineering, said she found Birgeneau’s racism allegation laughable. 

What next for Berkeley? Will the kin of the tree sitters, the tree huggers, be accused of being counterrevolutionaries? At least we know that the Berkeley Daily Planet could be counted on to report such a story with a completely straight face.


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