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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Davis, November 18


By Kelley Rees

When I returned to campus after the holidays the calls for resignation and protest seemed largely quieted by the month-long respite. I wasn’t there when police pepper-sprayed my fellow University of California, Davis students. I was wholly unaware. About an hour later I received a text message saying some students were pepper-sprayed. I don’t consider myself an activist, a reformist, a futurist. My initial thought was that the police were in the right, and the students in the wrong. Upon further inquiry I found photos and videos which set my early reactions straight.

morePrior to November 18th, I had seen the small encampment on the Quad but not paid much mind to its intent. I, like many others at the time, wasn’t entirely certain if their purpose was to show camaraderie with the Occupy Wall Street protesters or to begin their own movement focused on University of California tuition hikes. I will say though, that the actions of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, and the UC Davis Campus Police could not have better unified those whose chief emotion was indifference with those at the very heart of the movement. The large congregation that gathered as riot police closed in on those peacefully seated were not radicals, activists, or extremists of any kind. They were students on their way to classes and faculty on their way to work, interrupted from their daily goings-on – their learning and their employment – not by protestors but by those sent in to disband them.

In the first email Chancellor Katehi sent to those attending UC Davis following the events of November 18th, she affirmed, “We have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe and secure environment.” However, it was not the protestors, but the actions of the police sent by Chancellor Katehi that disrupted this living, learning, and working. And suddenly the handful of students that had begun protesting an unclear ideology, or a greatly disparate class-structure, or a gross increase in tuition had become thousands of students, faculty, and staff with written objectives and a means of advancing them.

The general assembly held the week following the pepper spraying seemed to me a sort of call to arms. Many, myself included, who had days before walked by the tents without a second glance were now standing side by side fellow believers. Most were not believers in a radical ideology, but in a doctrine that founded our nation – believers in the “right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

I am proud to be part of the University of California but more so because of student actions and not those of the administration. During the general assembly students from other campuses came to speak and show their solidarity. The heads of unions spoke of their support. Dozens of professors and the entire English Department requested the resignation of Chancellor Katehi. Throughout everything students remained peaceful and patient. And it was students who quickly pacified any rare outburst that did occur. When Chancellor Katehi walked to the podium some began to boo. Others quickly silenced them with shushing and calls of “let her speak.” If a more extreme idea was proposed at some point in the assembly, such as the removal of police from the campus, much attention was given to explaining the rational, encouraging questions and debate, and allowing those with dissenting opinions to share their views. It was an ideal example of a democratic process, not the totalitarian tactics seen days earlier.

The mentality that the only fault of the University of California system is the recent police brutality at the Berkeley and the Davis campuses overlooks other significant failings. But from a student’s perspective at least, it seems as though the powers that be, including the Regents and the Chancellor of my own university, refuse to see and acknowledge this. Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” (109) Something is out of place when this sentiment so perfectly applies to those leading an institute of higher learning.

Photograph: Paul Sakuma/AP

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