"I think it's a damn shame," Charlie ranted upon reading about the intentions of the president of the university he and his companions attended.
"So do I," Lucy responded. "We all do. We need that open space and those beautiful trees a hell of a lot more than we need a stupid football stadium."
"And, to make it worse," Sherman chipped in. "They're going to start cutting the trees down and doing the rest of their dirty work on April 22, less than a week from now. That's Earth Day, for Christ's sake! Just think of that! On Earth Day, the SOB's are going to start raping the Earth."
"But what can we do about it," Patty asked, almost in tears. She really loved the trees and the wide expanse of parkland where they stood. That part of the campus was one of the major reasons she had chosen to attend that branch of the state university and the same was true, at least to some degree, of all her companions in The Student Union that day.
What had caused the distress to the four young people was an article in the sports page of the local newspaper. The university, wanting to expand their football program and become a national power, had decided they would need a larger and more modern football stadium, and they would build it on what they were calling "unused space." It wasn't unused by the students in the college -- almost everybody attending classes there enjoyed strolling on the old brick walkways among the huge trees, all of them over a century old. They used the area for eating lunch, for walking, for peaceful contemplation and for just hanging out, and almost everybody who knew of the plan expressed anger and outrage over what the university intended doing.
The next day, virtually all the students were aware of the scheme. Some of them didn't like the idea, but considered it to be progress, and something that could not be helped. Members of the football team, especially underclassmen, liked the idea for a variety of reasons. A few didn't care one way or another, but most of the student body really hated the thought of losing the peaceful green space and, especially, the trees there. A few, such as the four who had met in the Student Union, were especially infuriated, and vowed to do something to prevent the atrocity, if they could.
There actually was something that could be done, and some students in the law school were already looking into the possibility. When the university was founded, more than one hundred years ago, with no more than a few dozen students in attendance, the trees had been planted as saplings, and they had grown, with the institution, to their present magnificence. The prospective lawyers believed the parkland, especially with the old trees, would qualify as an historic monument or landmark, and they had worked diligently to prepare the paperwork needed to bring about that designation.
Their petition had been accepted by the state court for consideration but, alas, a hearing on its virtues was to be held on April 29, a week after the destruction of the green space was scheduled to begin. By the time it would be called to order, the petition would be moot, because the area would be no more than a large patch of dirt and splinters. Once this became known, the whole campus seethed with outrage, including the four friends who liked to hang out at the Student Union.
Of those four, the most outraged was Patty, and she knew something she might be able to do. It would be risky, but she never considered that; to her way of thinking, the trees were worth any risk. She believed it could be done, but was unsure how to go about it, so she consulted with her friends.
"I've read about this being done in other places," she told her companions the morning after the scheduling of the hearing on the petition. "The bulldozer operators won't destroy trees or buildings or anything else if there are people in them."
"Do you propose to climb up one of the trees and stay there until the hearing is over and we, presumably, win?" Charlie asked her. They weren't a real couple yet, but they both referred to their relationship as one of "friends with benefits," and he was concerned with her safety, besides their goal of saving the precious green space.
"That's exactly what I propose, but there will need to be some others doing the same thing. If only one tree is occupied, they'll just pass up that one and root up all the others, besides plowing under the grass and digging up the bricks."
"You'd need ground support too," Sherman added. "Somebody to provide food and water while you're up there. A week or more is a long time to be up a tree, you know. I can do that -- ground support I mean - but I don't believe I would be able to stick it out up in a tree that long."
"I can," Lucy volunteered. "At least I think I can, and I know some other girls who would be willing to do it too. I really think this is the thing to do, if we want to keep the park for ourselves and others who come after us."
"Go ahead and get as many volunteers as you can," Sherman added. Try to get good looking women, like you two," he added, indicating Patty and Lucy. "We are looking for publicity, and nothing gets publicity like a pretty girl in peril. If we have enough people willing to stay in the trees, it might not be necessary for any one person to stay in one for very long. As long as enough of the trees are occupied all the time, it might be possible for the tree-sitters to take turns."
"We can call it 'a climb-in'," Patty suggested. The others laughed at the idea she had come up with, but all agreed it would make a catchy name for what they would be doing.
Lucy left to line up volunteers among those she had mentioned, while the others discussed what would be needed. Water, of course, and food that would be easily transportable, such as sandwiches, and warm clothing. Even in late April, the tree climbers would need to be bundled up against the cold winds, especially at night, since a vigil would be needed 24 hours a day, beginning early in the morning of April 22. Some kind of sanitary arrangements would need to be made too, since the women would not be able to climb down to the ground for restroom breaks.
Volunteers were enrolled; supplies were stockpiled and solutions to anticipated problems were found over the next few days and, during the wee, small hours of the morning of April 22, a crowd of activists assembled in the threatened parkland. They were equipped with ladders, and enough pretty young women had been found who took turns climbing to the lowest limbs and shinnying up the trees from there until they were nestled as high up as they could safely go to begin their demonstration.
They were posted in more than enough trees to prevent the bulldozer operators from attacking any of them. It would not be necessary to fill every tree, as long as there were women in enough of them that at least one person would be at peril if any of the trees were brought down. The rest of the park area was also safe, since the trees were growing close enough together that the bulldozers would not be able to wreak their destruction until the trees had been at least partially removed.
Bags of food and water and other supplies were tied to long ropes and, once the optimal perches were established in the treetops and the wooden ladders had been hauled away, the determined volunteers pulled up what they would need for the first day. The climb-in had begun with confidence and a strong spirit of cooperation, even though nobody in authority knew of it yet.
The rest of the crowd stayed there until the bulldozers arrived at eight o'clock. Some of them carried signs saying "Save our greenspace" or similar messages, and some just stood defiantly in the path of the heavy equipment. As everybody knew they would, the 'dozers stopped before they even got close to the trees, and the foreman approached the nearest of the demonstrators.
"What the hell are you kids doing?" he shouted. We've got orders to bulldoze these trees and we're gonna do it!" He was angry at being delayed, but the main reason for his loud voice was the general level of noise. The demonstrators were chanting and singing and the engines of the equipment he commanded had not yet been shut down.
The student he was addressing was Charlie. There was no specific leader of the demonstrators, but he was one of the main instigators, and he had deliberately chosen to stand in front of a tree he believed would probably be the first target of the bulldozers. Because of their special relationship, it was also the tree he had asked Patty to climb. Charlie was just as determined to do his part as the women in the trees, who were the ones actually risking their lives, but he also knew the man confronting him was just doing his job, and responding with anger would be self-defeating.
"Sir, we're here to stop you from vandalizing this historic place and to protect that woman up there and the other students in the other trees." As he spoke, he pointed up at Patty.
The foreman looked where Charlie was pointing and saw, sixty feet above his head, a person clad in jeans and a flannel shirt, who waved and blew a kiss in his direction. As Charlie and his cohorts expected, under no circumstances would he allow anybody to do anything to jeopardize that person, but he also wouldn't admit it to the young man confronting him. He tried a different tack.
"She'll have to come down out of that tree, and you and her and the rest of you trouble-makers will have to leave. You're all trespassing on state property."
Charlie knew better than that. "No we're not. We're students here, and we have every right to be on university property during a class day."
"Less sure of himself, the foreman responded "We'll see about that," and turned and strode to his pickup truck to call his superiors on his radio.
Most of the demonstrators on the ground and some of those in the trees had been watching the interplay and applauded the foreman's departure, but they knew they had just won a small skirmish and not the battle yet. Another of the organizers of the climb-in had possessed the foresight to call the town's only newspaper, and they had recognized an interesting story and sent a reporter. When he was sure the foreman had left, Bill Hogan, the journalist, approached Charlie and those who were congratulating him and themselves on the victory, which they all knew was strictly temporary.
The interview with the group was calm and straightforward, with the students showing determination and a belief in the rightness of their cause, rather than a desire to make trouble. The same person who had called the newspaper had also obtained photos, all in bathing suits or similar attire, of some of the young women who had climbed into the trees, and those were given to the reporter. He licked his lips at the sight of the sexy photos and thought about what a great story he had, combining sex, beauty in peril, and earnest young people challenging the establishment.
Shortly after Bill Hogan left, University President and former All-American Peter "Pigskin Pete" Olson, PhD appeared, incensed at the sight of all the expensive equipment and the highly paid crew members standing idly by. Since they were available for work, they were on the payroll whether they were active or not. He was also incensed that the men and equipment were doing nothing toward furthering his dream of being president of the university that would soon win the Bowl Championship Series. He spied the people who seemed most responsible for the inaction, and strode up to them, where he was met by Charlie.
"Young man, what do you think you are doing? How dare you stand in the way of progress?"
Once again, a soft answer was designed to turn away wrath. "Sir, since when is it progress to destroy historical landmarks such as these trees and this park?" Although shaken by the vehemence and the florid face of the tall, muscular president, he stood his ground.
"Leave! All of you!" he thundered. He heard Patty call out to him affectionately, looked up and saw her straddling a limb, twenty yards, as he preferred to think of distance, above his head.
"You come down from there!" he shouted at her. "You're all trespassers and you are vandalizing university property!"
"No we're not, sir," Charlie replied calmly. "We're university students and have a right to be here, according to the charter. And we're not vandalizing anything. We're keeping these other people," and he waved at the men and their heavy equipment, "from vandalizing this beautiful green space."
At a loss for words, President Olson could only issue threats. "I'm going to get the police to throw you off the grounds and I'm going to expel you and all these other hooligans." He stalked off to his office to start trying to make good on those threats.
"Can he really do that?" asked one of the men beside Charlie.
"He can try," a law student answered. "Charlie's right, though. As students, we have every right to be here in this open space, according to the university's own charter and because of many years of historic precedent. The city cops won't mess with us for that reason, and the university cops have better things to do. We've won, for now, at least, but we have to continue standing our ground until the hearing next week."
Seeing nothing would be happening around the trees for the time being, some of the students headed off to attend classes. Most of the activists didn't have classes that day, and they hung out in the green space they were protecting, elated at their success so far and hoping to hold out another week. Charlie looked up at Patty and held up his right hand with his thumb and forefinger forming an "O." She blew a kiss back to him and leaned against the trunk of her beloved tree, settling in for an all-day wait.
Charlie stayed there all day too, except for when he went to The Student Union for meals. As he thought about what Patty was doing, he liked her more and more, and hoped he and she and the other demonstrators would prevail. From what he had read and been told, he believed they would win at the hearing, but such a victory would be strictly pyrrhic if the trees had already been knocked down and the walkways and grass torn up by then. That would not happen if he could help it, and he knew Patty felt the same. At five o'clock, the bulldozer operators and their support employees started up their equipment and drove away, after having put in the easiest but dullest day any of them could remember.
"How are you doing up there?" Charlie called up to Patty.
"I'm fine, but I really need to pee."
This was a problem that had been anticipated, and she and the other women sitting in the trees were equipped with wide-mouth plastic jars, but that left something to be desired as a solution. They could duck behind the thick tree trunks and the leaves provided some cover but there was still a lack of privacy, and using the jars could be messy. Washing themselves after urinating was a problem which had been solved by taking sanitary wipes into the trees into the trees along with their other supplies, but they presented a problem of proper disposal. Patty's immediate emergency, however, was easily solved.
"Throw down the ladder, and I'll climb up to replace you while you go to the john," Charlie suggested.
The rope ladders had been carried by Patty and the first activists to climb into the trees, and they were secured to the trunks and intended to be used by them and subsequent women. Patty threw down the loose end, and Charlie climbed up to replace her temporarily. They kissed hello, but her needs were too urgent for her to do any more than that, and she climbed down, carrying her plastic jar so she could dump the contents. A few minutes later, she scampered up the ladder Charlie let back down for her, ready to finish out her first day at the climb-in.
"You're doing great, Patty. All of you are." Charlie kissed her goodbye and left the same way as he had arrived. She pulled the ladder back up, and he stayed on the ground, ready to provide anything she needed and thinking about how dedicated she was, and what a really nice girl, besides her good looks.
At three o'clock the following morning, under cover of darkness, a new group of attractive female volunteers arrived and replaced Patty and Lucy and the other young women who were risking life and limb to save the trees and the green space. The first group, elated at their success so far, left with their supporters and a new crowd of women took up their posts in the treetops while the men and woman who would be providing moral support and other assistance stayed on the ground below. The first day had gone well, and the weekend promised to be boring more than anything else, but Monday was expected to be a new test of will. "Pigskin Pete" won't give up his dream of big time football so easily, was the widely-held opinion.
The local newspaper had only one edition per day, and the climb-in hadn't made it on Friday but, on Saturday morning, it was the biggest thing they printed. The front page article described the climb-in, and the inner pages included some of the risqué photos of the best looking young women involved. The main column in the sports pages addressed the question of whether or not the new stadium was needed, and if the college president was being wise in his pursuit of national prominence in football. In the editorial page, the opinion was expressed that the young people involved had kept their demonstration peaceful and orderly and hoped they would continue to do so. Everybody involved in the climb-in was excited over the apparent support, but they were right in their belief that President Olson had not given up his dream yet.
That afternoon, Charlie and Patty read the newspaper together while sitting at a table in the Student Union amid a crowd of their fellow demonstrators and well-wishers. He had walked her to her dormitory early that morning and, before she went in to sleep, they had embraced and kissed goodnight and made plans to meet later. It had been a long day, and their feelings toward each other were warmer than they had ever been, but he slept in his own bed that night, and she slept in hers.
As arranged, they had met in the Student Union for coffee and Danish at noon on Saturday, where Charlie had seen the headlines and bought a newspaper. While they ate, a multitude of students spoke to them, mostly in support, and many of the well-wishers wanted to join them, at the long table and in the climb-in. They knew some students did not support their efforts, and a few were even in opposition, but none of them put in an appearance. On their way there, they had passed by the green space they were fighting for, and been greeted by their cohorts who were active that day, and saw no problems likely to develop that weekend. They were right; Saturday was a peaceful day.
The next day happened to be Easter Sunday, and they knew that would also be peaceful. The crews hired to destroy the parkland would not have been active on either that day or the previous one, but the demonstrators had wanted to stay their course on Saturday, so they occupied the trees and the surrounding area just as they had done on Good Friday. The activists were not active on Sunday, but Monday morning was expected to be a different matter, and they anticipated the administration of the university trying to assert what they claimed as their authority, probably by sending the campus police after them.
"Bring it on" was their attitude, and they were back on duty at three o'clock in the morning. They were confident they would be able to hold their ground and, even if a few were hauled forcibly away, others would take their place, and the representatives of the university administration would be able to do nothing about the women in the trees without causing them serious injure, which they would not be willing to do.