Magazine article The New Yorker

On a Limb

Magazine article The New Yorker

On a Limb

Article excerpt

Calum Wright did not go to Berkeley--that's Berserkley, to those who remember the sixties--to be an activist. He is a law-and-order type, reared among conservatives in London, and a member of the crew team, whose tastes run to khakis and polo shirts. He likes the campus police. But, not long ago, Wright, using the latest in protest technology--Facebook--was moved to organize a rally at the base of a campus oak, near Sproul Plaza, the storied place of free-speech happenings and Joan Baez concerts. His cause: Students Against Hippies in Trees. The action: to shout down a former Berkeley student named Michael (Fresh) Schuck, who had taken up residence in the oak seventeen days earlier. The invitation, sent to some six hundred members of the SAHIT Facebook group, from "hippy hater no. 1," read:

There will be a jolly gathering on this coming friday, providing that fresh is still up there, to stir as much shit as legally possible with the hippies on the ground and our jolly mate "fresh." . . .

We will be the noisy fucks camping out next to those smelly ugly freeloading hippies.

Fresh, who is twenty-six, said he took "a purple khadi, homespun from India," wrapped it around his head like Lawrence of Arabia, and went up the tree with the idea of drawing attention to a host of issues: the housing of Native American remains in a campus museum; the undemocratic method by which the regents of the University of California are selected; the university system's ties to British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, and two nuclear laboratories; and, not least, the cause of some fellow non-students tree-sitting in a grove half a mile away, near the football stadium, where the university hopes to build a new athletic center. (The city of Berkeley, in conjunction with two local groups--the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association--has sued to prevent the construction; the judge is expected to issue a ruling by mid-June.) The SAHIT's position is easier to crystallize. As Wright put it, "Look, come down, you're a joke." Plus, he and his friends resent the enormous cost of containing the tree-sitters: more than three hundred thousand dollars in twenty-four-hour security guards and fencing.

On the day of the rally, Matthew Taylor, a fifth-year student in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, who is an avid supporter of the tree-sitters and is writing his thesis about the protest in the grove, arrived to see a crowd of SAHIT supporters gathering around Fresh's tree. …

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