VICTORY: Berkeley Unites to Keep Animal Rights Center Open
By Zach Groff
Last night, the Berkeley City Council voted resoundingly to keep the Berkeley Animal Rights Center open and turn back a mistaken eviction threat. The vote caps off an effort in which animal rights groups and Berkeley residents rallied, united, and took action to save the center in a city famous for free speech.
The Berkeley Animal Rights Center opened in July 2016. The activists and visitors enjoyed a conflict-free relationship with the Center’s landlord, the City of Berkeley. That is, until one day last September, when the Berkeley Animal Rights Center (ARC) received a strongly-worded letter from an outside law firm containing a laundry list of lease violations.
The alleged violations were strange. The letter claimed that use of a lockbox to hold keys invited theft. The letter ignored email conversations about renovations. The letter quibbled over the definition of “office use and supporting retail.”
Why such a desperate effort to evict a community center? Maybe it was a protest at Berkeley’s famed sustainable purveyors of animal bodies, Chez Panisse. Maybe it was a resolution condemning dog meat - and tacitly all animal slaughter. Maybe it was the political activation of animal rights activists. Whatever it was, the city ultimately rallied in support of ARC and free speech.
ARC’s fellow tenants signed an open letter supporting us. Dozens of animal rights and social justice groups signed another. Berkeley residents flooded the city council with calls in support of ARC. We rallied on the steps of City Hall and filled a City Council meeting in signs of unity.
At that meeting, the mayor made clear: ARC was to stay. The mayor and city council stood up for free speech, democracy, and civil and animal rights. Last night, the Berkeley City Council made good on that promise: they amended ARC’s lease to make clear that we have a right to stay and keep operating as usual.
Today is a new day. DxE and the Berkeley animal rights community can continue on without fear, and Berkeley has lived up to its democratic values. The Berkeley City Council and city officials will respect the values of free speech and democracy. ARC, and animal rights, will flourish.
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