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Occupy protesters set up camp at UC Berkeley

- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

BERKELEY, Calif. — Anti-Wall Street activists were bracing for a confrontation with police Wednesday after establishing a tent encampment on the steps of the University of California, Berkeley student plaza despite a campus ban on camping.

Campus police repeatedly told the protesters in the morning that they risked arrest if they did not take the tents down and leave. But the protesters remained in the plaza, where they were joined overnight by Daniel Ellsberg, a former defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, police early Wednesday arrested at least seven people and confiscated about a dozen tents at one of several encampments of protesters supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement. Police in riot gear surrounded the area as protesters stood nearby pondering their next move.

KGO-TV reported that police moved in on the small encampment along Market Street around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. The camp was set up in front of a Bank of America building and was blocking the sidewalk. The other larger encampments in San Francisco were not raided.

Protesters are expected to converge on the city later in the day for demonstrations supported by ReFund California, a coalition of student groups and university employee unions. The coalition plans to bus in protesters from UC Berkeley, the University of California, Merced and other schools to join San Francisco's anti-Wall Street demonstrators for a march to banks and a state building.

The encampment at UC Berkeley went up during a daylong strike on campus on Tuesday against big banks and education cuts that culminated in some 4,000 people rallying at a speech by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Reich, who spoke on the steps of the same student plaza that first launched the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960s implored the protesters to take a moral stand against the very rich owning so much of America's wealth.

"The days of apathy are over folks," Reich, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, said to a roaring crowd at Sproul Hall. "We are losing the moral foundation stone on which this country and our democracy were built. There are some people out there who say we cannot afford education any longer, we cannot provide social services for the poor … but how can that be true if we are now richer than we have ever been before?"

The protests were disrupted earlier in the day when campus police shot a 33-year-old suspect allegedly brandishing a gun in a computer lab at the Haas School of Business. Police said there was no immediate indication the suspect, who has not been identified, was connected to the protest. His condition was not immediately known.

The shooting didn't prevent thousands of students and demonstrators from gathering at the university to vote on a list of demands and await Reich's Mario Savio Lecture, named for the political activist and leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. Savio's impassioned speeches on the same steps of Sproul Hall against the Vietnam War and racial inequality prompted thousands of students to join the movement.

"Every social movement in the last half century or more — it started with moral outrage," Reich said, likening Wall Street to the bullies who battered him when he was an especially short kid. "You understand how important it is to fight the bullies, to protect the powerless."

Elizabeth de Martelly, a 29-year-old UC Berkeley graduate student, said she was inspired by Reich's comments about social movements born from moral outrage and planned to spend the night in the new encampment.

"That said, I want to see the movement to expand beyond encampments," she said amid the music, light shows and dancing. "But this is a powerful thing for the time being."

The Occupy Cal students were joined by hundreds of Occupy Oakland demonstrators who marched the five miles from Oakland to Berkeley along Telegraph Avenue, chanting, "Here comes Oakland!" Police cleared their tent city outside Oakland City Hall on Monday amid complaints about safety and sanitation, and arrested more than 50 people.

Occupy Cal's general assembly voted in favor of inviting the university's chancellor and board of regents to a debate in early December and sending the educational officials a list of demands, including a tuition rollback to 2009 levels.

They also voted in favor of rebuilding their encampment despite earlier violence.

On Nov. 9, police jabbed students with batons and arrested 40 people as the university sought to uphold a campus ban on camping.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau launched an investigation into allegations that campus police used excessive force. He said videos of the protests were disturbing, and he plans to grant amnesty to all students who were arrested and cited for attempting to block police from removing the tents.

Birgeneau issued a statement to the students and Occupy demonstrators, saying the university leadership shares in their anger and frustration over relentless tuition hikes and the growing burden on their families.

"We all share the distress and anger at the State of California's disinvestment in public higher education," Birgeneau said.

He called on the "political leadership" from Sacramento to come to campus to engage with him and student representatives in a public forum to debate the future of public education. "The issues require bold action and time is short," he said.

Over the past three years, the cash-strapped state has sharply reduced funding to California's public colleges and universities, which has led to steep tuition hikes, course cutbacks, staff layoffs and reduced student enrollment.

Oscar Varela, 21, a fifth-year economics major who helped organize Tuesday's demonstrations, was among the students who tried to block campus police from tearing down the campus encampment last week.

"We want to stay here to prove to the regents and state that we are part of this movement and that we want our tuition to go back to what it used to be, which essentially should be free," Varela said.

Associated Press writers Garance Burke and Terry Collins contributed to this report.

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