With Their Heads in the Trees

Posted: Dec 04, 2007 12:00 AM

For a year now, protesters have been squatting on trees at UC-Berkeley's Memorial Stadium to protest plans to build a $125 million sports training center. When protesters fall from the trees and break their bones, as has happened at least twice, people laugh and liberals start to wonder if perhaps there is a god.

Over the years, activists have lodged many protests to fight severe injustices in the world, such as racial inequality and genocide. At times, I've disagreed with protesters -- on the Iraq war, for example -- but I at least had to respect their commitment to make a difference on a life-and-death issue.

In the case of the "People's Perch" -- as some are calling the year-long Bezerkley tree-squat -- never before has so much been done for a cause so trivial. The tree-sitters argue that in fighting to save some 100 trees, they are protecting "a healthy, functioning native oak ecosystem." One problem: The stadium property is not pristine wilderness. Most of those trees owe their existence to UC landscaping.

"People call us crazy monkey hippies," one tree-squatter told The San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Jones, "but this is the greatest thing I've ever done." Except the tree squatters have achieved nothing. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller issued an injunction that barred the university from felling the trees. The squatters could have walked away 11 months ago, and the trees would still be standing. It's lawyers, not aging adolescents swinging in the trees, who have kept UC chainsaws at bay.

While the tree squatters have called UC "arrogant" and allmighty, in fact, it is the oak activists who take the prize for arrogance and rule-breaking. A judge ruled that UC has to postpone the development project until she makes a final ruling, and UC complied. Judge Richard Keller issued an injunction in October barring protesters from living in the trees, with which they would not dream of complying. Activists trespass on university property, set up illegal homes, break fire rules by cooking with propane tanks in the treetops -- and they know they have little to fear from campus police, probably the most politically correct police force in the country.

Their cause is so ludicrous that a student newspaper editorial faulted a TV story on the tree-sitters' Thanksgiving among the branches for failing to mention "the police officers who had to miss Thanksgiving with their own families because they had to patrol the oak grove."

Frustrated alumni, donors and taxpayers have let UC administrators know they'd like to see campus police do more than dodge human feces, write feckless citations and escort injured protesters to the emergency room.

Have you thought about tear gas? I asked UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. He answered that "certain tactics" that would fly in corporate America or other areas "simply don't mesh with the culture, character and traditions of this university."

And, "Eventually, this protest will end, but we have to bring it to an end in a matter that is consistent with our values and our very strong desire not to have anyone injured in the process."

The university finally has put up chain-link and barbed wire fences to isolate squatters from their supporters. At night, the university now shines floodlights into the trees. The tree-squatters have responded hysterically, charging that the university had turned the oak grove into Berkeley's "Guantanamo."

The People's Perch is a perfect example of the infantilization of the American Left's protest movement -- and I say this aware that many good liberals are appalled at this spectacle.

Like young children, the tree-sitters have no sense of proportion. They can leave at any time. They eat and mix with others as they will. The worst they have to fear is five days in jail. Yet they equate their plight with that of Gitmo inmates?

It's a Peter Pan protest. Activists go by kiddie names -- Running Wolf, Redwood Mary, Midnight Matt. And they have a child's sense of what is important. In a world darkened by genocide, starvation and ignorance, they see fit to champion the cause of landscaped trees, which, by the way, UC has offered to replace on a three-to-one basis.

In short, the tree-sitters have picked an unworthy cause. Given Judge Miller's injunction, their squatting is irrelevant. They could work to make the world a better place, but they've chosen to waste other people's time and money.