Berkeley post office protesters defy order to move

Several participants in the post office occupation intend to stay and be arrested if the police come to remove the sit-in. Photo: Eden Teller
Several participants in the post office occupation say they intend to stay and be arrested if police come to remove the sit-in. Photo: Eden Teller

Participants at the sleep-in to save the Berkeley post office on Allston Way have been asked to move by postal inspectors, but many are staying despite the threat.

Jeff Fitch, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the organization is “not asking the protesters to leave” but rather asking them to move to the sidewalk, which is public property. The protesters are currently trespassing on federal property by camping out on the post office steps, he said.

“We are all for First Amendment rights,” said Fitch.

Protesters can carry signs and stay at the post office as long as they want, as long as they stay on the sidewalk in front of the office, he said.


Mike Cleft, one of about 15 to 20 people who have been sleeping at the post office for the last 11 days, said he plans to “take the tree” that grows alongside the post office on Milvia if police come to arrest him. Zachary Runningwolf, who spent a year in a tree to protest the rebuilding of Memorial Stadium, has also vowed to perch in the tree, said Cleft.

Ideally, others would join in the protest as the postal police descend, said Cleft. He expressed hope that Berkeley postal workers would stage a walk-out in support of Save the Berkeley Post Office and that UC Berkeley students would also rally.

Brian Lipson, who has set up a letter writing table in front of the post office, is not camping out, but if police come while he’s at his table, he said, “they won’t stop me from sitting and writing letters in front of the post office.”

Photo: Emilie Raguso
Brian Lipson is inviting community members to defend the post office by using its services. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The postal inspectors have visited the protesters twice, once on Friday and once on Saturday, said Fitch. On Friday they handed out fliers describing the laws regarding USPS property and introduced themselves, explaining their roles as the federal agents with jurisdiction over USPS land, such as the Berkeley post office.

If the protesters do not move from USPS property soon, Fitch said they could be “subject to arrest or citation” and that the postal inspectors would have to “remove their property.”

“Our number one concern is safety,” said Fitch, who added that the hope is that “everyone voluntarily complies” and moves the protest to the sidewalk. The tents and chairs set up on the steps to the post office are “making it a little tricky going in and out,” said Fitch, and there have been some “minor vandalism” issues.

The USPS is selling the Berkeley post office as part of an initiative to reduce costs. CB Richard Ellis Group (CRBE), which is chaired by Richard Blum, husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein and a regent for the UC system, is handling the sale, as well as that of other historic post offices. Some of the protesters believe the close connection between Blum and Feinstein is evidence of a corrupted system.

Ian Saxton said Tuesday he thinks Blum had used his “public power and private power” for his own personal gain and that the UC Berkeley system was to blame for the sale of the post office.

Mike Cleft said that he and Zachary Runningwolf plan to "take the tree" growing alongside the post office if the police attempt to arrest him. Photo: Eden Teller
Mike Cleft said he and Zachary Runningwolf plan to “take the tree” alongside the post office if police attempt to arrest him. Photo: Eden Teller

Related:
Protesters told to leave steps of Berkeley post office (08.03.13)
Protesters stage a sleep-in to save the Berkeley post office (07.29.13)
Locals, city fight on to stop sale of post office (07.19.13)
Berkeley’s political firmament rallies for post office (05.03.13)
Post Office to sell its downtown Berkeley building (04.22.13)
Council asks for 1-year moratorium on post office sale (03.06.13)
USPS hears vocal opposition to sale of downtown building (02.28.13)
Post Office public hearing to focus on Berkeley sale plan (02.26.13)
Berkeley discusses future of main post office (02.13.12)
Protesters take Save Post Office demo to San Francisco (12.05.12)
Rally held to protest sale of Berkeley’s main post office (11.15.12)
Developer eyes Berkeley’s historic post office (08.01.12)
Chances are slim of stopping sale of Berkeley’s post office (07.23.12)
Postal Service plans sale of Berkeley’s main post office (06.25.12)

Eden Teller, a graduate of Berkeley High School, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She will be attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, next year.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.