When President Obama came to San Francisco last month, activists had two venues for protest: anti-Obama action at Third and Howard streets or Occupy SF at Justin Herman Plaza. On Wednesday, students and activists tried to set up the Occupy Cal camp at Sproul Plaza, but campus police seized their tents.
Protesters have framed themselves as the victims of authoritarian law-enforcement actions. Everyone knows that if they really wanted to protest a police state, Syria would be a more deserving target. But protest in the bosom of the free speech movement is a lot safer and easier.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan finally found the backbone to allow police to evict the Occupy Oakland encampment last month. Unfortunately, the howls of outrage that followed were so intense that Quan invited the tent-sitters to return to Frank Ogawa Plaza.
A funny thing happened after her capitulation. The howls of outrage got louder. Area businesses let City Hall know that the demonstrations were starving their cash registers, voters complained that law-breaking Occupiers were fouling their public square, and taxpayers voiced alarm at the rising cost of police overtime and cleanup efforts.
By Nov. 3, as the Oakland City Council was set to vote on a resolution in support of Occupy Oakland's "rights to free speech and peaceful assembly 24 hours a day, seven days a week," author Nancy Nadel was forced to admit she didn't have the votes.
Protest Fatigue has come to San Francisco, too. Yes, supervisors passed a resolution supporting Occupy SF, but they watered it down with language that allows police to use force in the interests of public safety.
Protest Fatigue also has come to Berkeley. This is not a university that wants to squelch protest, especially left-leaning movement activists who want to elbow Washington and Sacramento to fork more money onto higher education's plate.
In 2006, when activists decided to occupy oak trees the university wanted to cut down, they were able to trespass in the trees for 20 months. An Alameda Superior Court judge issued an injunction that barred UC from putting chain saw to timber. But rules that constrained UC administrators did not interfere with tree-sitters, who foolishly equated Berkeley with Guantanamo Bay and lobbed feces at authorities, who nonetheless served them water and energy bars.
The cause was frivolous, the trees are now sawdust, but Berkeley's reputation for appeasing scofflaw protests has lived on. Until perhaps last week, when campus police removed all the tents and arrested protesters.
Finally, university toffs had sent a message to self-aggrandizing lefties: No more Mr. Nice Guy. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau had warned activists on their "Day of Action." In a statement, he explained, "We simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition, on costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism."
The word is out after Oakland. Let the tents stay and the cost to taxpayers mount while public safety becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.
"We don't want to arrest our students," said UC Berkeley spokesperson Claire Holmes on Thursday. No lie. Unfortunately, some Berkeley students and professors are happy to squander university resources for an amorphous protest that won't help the university or their cause. If anything, Occupy Cal, like Occupy Oakland, is likely to alienate good liberals, who believe that rules should apply to everyone.
Berkeley administrators lived through the tree-sitter fiasco. They know the hell of an entrenched protest. They know Protest Fatigue. And they see the wisdom in not letting chaos take hold. As Holmes acknowledged, "We looked to the situation in Oakland."