Anti-Apartheid Demonstration Recalls Berkeley Protests of ‘60s
Hundreds of people rallied Monday in support of a continuing anti-apartheid demonstration at UC Berkeley that has awakened the spirit of the rebellious 1960s on the campus.
About 170 demonstrators have been camped out on the steps of Sproul Hall, the main administration building, since Wednesday, seeking the divestment of $1.7 billion in University of California funds invested in firms that do business in South Africa.
Monday’s noon rally came only hours after Chancellor Michael Heyman had warned the demonstrators that their protest was illegal and that the university would “take action to open the doors of Sproul Hall, take down the signs and end the camping out.”
Heyman’s statement did not give the protesters a deadline, however.
The protesters have blocked the main entrance to the building, although workers have been able to get to their offices through side entrances.
The demonstration began quietly Wednesday at Sproul Plaza, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement two decades ago, and proceeded like most demonstrations here in recent years--a small gathering ignored by most students.
But the demonstrators have gradually attracted more people, and daily rallies have drawn hundreds of supporters. A UC Berkeley public information officer estimated that there were 450 people at Monday’s rally, but campus police placed the number at 800. Noon demonstrations also are planned for today and Wednesday. Mario Savio, who led the Free Speech Movement of the ‘60s, is expected to be Wednesday’s principal speaker.
Demonstrators have draped the plaza with protest banners and rolled out sleeping bags on the steps.
Protesters say they were inspired by a similar anti-apartheid sit-in at Columbia University in New York, currently in its 10th day.
“When we sat down we felt in our hearts that we should stay,” said protester Andrea Pritchett, a 21-year-old senior. Pritchett said the demonstrators had been receiving donations of hot meals from local restaurants and residents.
Along with his warning to the protesters, Heyman issued a statement calling apartheid a “shame” and promising to bring the students’ views on divestment before the Board of Regents.
Heyman declined to be interviewed Monday. However, an acting assistant to the chancellor, John Cummins, said, “We want to avoid a confrontation and make sure we do not act precipitously.”
The demonstrators said that Heyman’s promise to bring the divestment issue before the regents was not enough to make them close camp. “That’s just not sufficient enough for us,” Pritchett said. “We want a more definitive answer.”
Protesters say they want a public meeting on the divestment issue by the end of the month with UC officials and also ask that the regents take up the divestment issue at their May meeting at Berkeley.
UC regents are scheduled to discuss divestment, rejected by an 11-6 vote in 1977, at the June meeting at UC Santa Cruz.
Late Monday, Heyman said he would sponsor a forum in the first week of May at which campus groups can present their views on the university’s investments. Heyman said he would invite regents to attend the meeting.
Meanwhile, administration officials and representatives of the protesters negotiated into the night in an effort to reach a compromise that would end the demonstration.