On April 23, we reported on Occupy activists seizing a 10 acre tract of land known as the “Gill Tract”, owned by University of California at Berkeley. They claimed they were seizing the land to preserve its farm nature, because the University was going to sell the property for retail development.
Except, as with other Occupy stories, their side of the story wasn’t quite true.
Turns out that while other land was being sold, the land being occupied was already being used for agricultural research by students and researchers of the University. Occupiers were well aware of this fact, as one of the Occupiers had actually been a student of one of the professors working the land.
According to NBC The Bay Area:
UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor John Wilton said in a letter to the community that the existing agricultural fields will continue to be used as an open-air laboratory by the students and faculty of the College of Natural Resources for agricultural research.
Breslauer and Wilton said the university has been actively participating in a collaborative, five-year long community engagement process about our its proposed development project but Occupy the Farm appears to have little regard for the process or the people who have participated in it.
They said, “We take issue with the protesters’ approach to property rights. By their logic they should be able to seize what they want if, in their minds, they have a better idea of how to use it.”
Some of UC Berkeley’s agricultural scientists working with the land weighed in on the issue, to the local Albany Patch newspaper.
Scientist Damon Lisch (an Albany resident and parent) wrote this week:
“I know, from talking to a lot of people, that science means something scary, corporate and alienating, but that has nothing to do with what we do. Our work is paid for by you through your tax dollars (mostly through the National Science Foundation and the USDA), and the results of our research are available to everyone. As long as these occupiers sit on our field, we can’t teach or make new discoveries, and that doesn’t seem right to me.”
The scientists noted that the longer the occupation stays the more it will throw off their work. For some of the graduate students it may delay their ability to get their degrees. For high school students that were to work with the scientists, they might not be able to have that experience. For Damon Lisch, it may mean that he loses his research grant:
“This year is critical for me, since I’m on the last year of a grant, and to kick-start my next grant (assuming I get one), I absolutely need to set up the proper genetics now. I should also mention that I am on soft money, which means all my income comes from grants, so no grants, no income. That means that what the Occupiers are doing is directly threatening my ability to support my family.
“I’d like to suggest that a lot of the people involved in Occupy the Farm probably had no idea of how much harm they were doing to our research, or what our research even is,” Lisch said.
The University noted that it would continue to have a dialogue with the activists and seek a “peaceful resolution”. They said the researchers need to be planting soon and their work cannot be impeded.
Occupiers have vowed to stay.