A Letter to UC Berkeley’s Sather Gate: The Demonstration of Protest and Solidarity Destination

(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

By Praniti Gulyani

Dear Sather Gate,

When I tell my family back in India about you, and most importantly, about how much I adore you, they look at me with surprised, and almost disbelieving eyes. As a person who prides herself on her people-describing abilities, I’d say that their expression is something between utter shock and absolute uncertainty.

I think they’re surprised by the amount of love and regard that I hold for you, and go on to ask me, “What is so special about the Sather Gate? It is a gate after all, is it not?”

I find myself struggling to correct them. I have never looked upon you as “just a gate.” You are an accessible chunk of history, positioned in the absolute center of our lives for all of us to engage with. Erected in 1913, you were the entrance to the South Side of campus until World War II, and happen to be a frequent occurrence in pictures from the Free Speech Movement.

You observed Mario Savio and Martin Luther King as they spoke about revolution and freedom, and the mere realization of this fact makes me feel a strong sense of connection with these luminary personalities. After all, you looked at them with the same turquoise-starry eye that you use to look at me today.

Coming back to the point, I know we haven’t talked in a while, and considering our ongoing lack of communication, my sudden letter to you might come as a surprise. You see, life has been pretty overwhelming lately — and my unending ambition does not seem to make things any easier.

However, irrespective of my personal commitments, I do take out time for relationships that matter to me. I make sure to call my mother, text my maternal uncle, and reach out to my other favorite people multiple times a day.

I know that my tendency to prioritize the animate over the inanimate is not particularly helpful, and I do regret sidelining my inanimate connections. This is why I am writing to you today.

I remember when I saw you for the first time. I had just gotten accepted into UC Berkeley, and when I searched up pictures of the campus, you were the first location that popped up on my laptop screen.  I was initially a little confused. How could a gate be the first image of a campus?

My 18-year-old mind assumed you were the entrance to UC Berkeley. which is why you were possibly so important. However, when I came here and saw you positioned in the absolute middle of campus, I was in for a big shock. You were in the middle of the campus, a majestic arch separating North Side from South Side.

People fawned over you almost as though you were a celebrity, and I remember seeing graduating seniors pose in front of you with their diplomas clasped between their hands. There was something hugely affectionate about their gestures, and they stood by you almost as though you were an old friend.

A few days later, during a demonstration, you were barricaded by students, as they protested against the closing of People’s Park. And, in the middle of all this, new freshmen and their parents stood in front of you, clicking pictures that would soon be captioned as “First Day at the #1 Public University in the Nation.”

As I write to you, I realize that you have grown to know me in an intimate manner even though the only interaction that we have had are conversations conducted through my eyes. You have seen me struggle, fail, and stand under you overthinking about what exactly my professor meant when he said that the plot of my monologue was “interesting.”

You have also witnessed what I would call my purest form of joy, as I raced through you with wings tied to my ankles after I got my first journalistic article published. In addition to these serious instances, you have seen me struggle with splashing black coffee, as I balance it with my sealed lunch box.

You have seen me drop black coffee on my white shirt 10 minutes before I am scheduled to report for a professional photograph, and simultaneously crib about the hills that make up the UC Berkeley campus. You have seen me walk with the love of my life, and with your visceral capabilities — I am sure that you heard me whisper to myself, “What a beautiful, beautiful boy.”

Even though my association with you might come forth as personalized and unique, I do realize that you might have met several over-caffeinated young women like me who pass through you every day with renewed fervor as they pursue the dreams that brought them to UC Berkeley, and for you, I might be just one of them.

However, putting my ambitious personality into perspective, I must confess that I am constantly overwhelmed by the desire to stand out. I want you to remember me as a young woman who asked questions and did not flinch at the answers — no matter how difficult they were.

So, I want to ask you, Sather Gate, how do you feel?

As a college campus location, you have often been used as a canvas on which students paint their protests against injustice with enthusiastic shades. Taking some of the relatively recent instances into account — in 2016, white students were blocked from passing through you, and only “students of color” were allowed during what was labeled as “Fight 4 Spaces of Color” at the University.

In 2010, you were surrounded by protesting students yet again — with the issue revolving around state budget cuts and a 32 percent increase in student fees. In 2022, you were thronged with protesting graduate student instructors, who employed the slogan “No cost of living adjustment, no grades.”

While the nature of these protests differ from each other, your support did not waver one bit, and in every news report image, I saw you standing behind the student protestors, or rather, with them — unmoving, stoic and confident.

You have unshakeable faith in the student voice, and I particularly appreciate how you do not dictate preconceived opinions about their demonstrations. Without approving or disapproving, without commenting or critiquing — you let the students speak.

As I write to you this evening, I am sitting on my favorite bench that is positioned a little way away from you under the protective umbrella of The Golden Bear Cafe. It is raining.

I see students huddled around you protesting for a Free Palestine. They are handing out flyers to people who walk by. Some people take the flyers and put them in their backpacks, others take the flyers and read them, while others choose to simply rush by.

And, offering a sharp contrast to these diverse human reactions, I see you — silent and unmoving, solemn and unspeaking, stoic and supporting…

Yours Sincerely

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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