Occupy UC Davis: Save Public Education
Background Scenario to My On Location Account: Video Induced Honesty, World Wide Outrage and Pepper Spraying as Meme
The peaceful Occupy Wall Street uprising of 99 percent of the people against the richest ruling class one percent, started in New York in September and spread around the world. Out of all Occupy Wall Street protests from Philadelphia to San Francisco to many “small town, USA” main streets, Occupy UC Davis has drawn the most publicity and discussion.
Why? Simple answer: Police brutality. As you may have seen on major network news, YouTube or any number of blogs around the internet, University of California, Davis Campus Police officer John Pike pepper sprayed his way into history, became a Photoshop Meme and is now known as “Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop.” Students did not take it sitting down for long. They responded powerfully to the excessive force applied against them. In one video made at an Occupy UC Davis demonstration, one member led the crowd in a chant. He shouted, “Is this what a police state looks like?” And the crowd roared, “This is what a police state looks like.”
The Chief of UC Davis Campus Police, Annette Spicuzza, later explained to the Sacramento Bee that John Pike and another police officer pepper sprayed the students seated on the ground, arms linked with no way to protect their faces because, “There was no way out of that circle. They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.” However, the website, Know Your Meme, said over a dozen videos from different angles were uploaded to YouTube and showed that the UC Davis police were walking freely around the area. Soon after Chief Spicuzza placed the two officers on leave. University of California President Mark Yudof subsequently put Chief Spicuzza on leave as well. Meanwhile UC Davis dropped charges against the non-violent student demonstrators.
Occupy UC Davis participants demand UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi resign largely because she defended the Police actions to begin with, but as dissent increased, she realigned with Occupy UC Davis student and faculty protestors. Following the pepper spray incident she sent a letter to University officials: “The group was informed in writing… that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed… However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.” Later after the uprising reached a crescendo, she told a crowd of over 1,000 students at a town hall that she, “Explicitly directed the chief of police that violence should be avoided at all costs.”
Traveling To Photograph ‘Occupy UC Davis’ And What I Discovered
Believing this to be a potentially significant defining moment in history, and living within 180 miles of Davis, last week I packed up my father pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde’s trusty 1984 Ford Econoline traveling Van and headed for UC Davis to document with photography what I could. I missed a major rally scheduled for 9:00 am Monday, November 28, 2011, but finally finished enough work to get away and arrived on the UC Davis campus that evening. I found the Quad by 10:00 pm, just in time to photograph several TV crews from various stations filming in front of UC Davis’ Dutton Hall Financial Aid. Donations from around the world through Amazon.com had just paid for 25 new tents to bring the total in the Quad up to 75 and add more than a dozen to the inside lobby and main entry courtyard of the financial aid building. That day financial aid closed down early and remained closed the following day except for check disbursement.
I photographed Dutton Hall and then headed out to the Quad proper. A good number of students were still awake. I met Devin, Michelle, Anne and a number of others. Considering it was the last week of school before finals week, the Occupy UC Davis encampment had plenty of supporters and participants. I talked a bit and photographed until around 1:30 am, when the cold fog got the best of my fingers and toes. The nearby parking structure allowed free parking from 10:00 pm until 7:00 am. Besides the hundreds of bicycles in the Quad, there were still many vehicles in the parking structure despite postings of a regular security patrol. I decided to do my part in violating the campus policy of no camping and promptly curled up in my ultra comfortable bed in my warm van. I was not disturbed. Apparently UC Davis Police were preoccupied. Earlier in front of Dutton Hall, I witnessed several Campus Police cars drive up and a large group of police officers approach to talk to the student leaders present. At that point, both sides were going out of their way to be cordial to each other, but the police were making their presence known.
The morning fog brought a damper, lower cold. I put on my gloves and another jacket, fed the parking meter and walked back out to the Quad for more photographs. The student protesters on hand recommended I attend the teach-ins in the afternoon. Occupy UC Davis protesters had added quite a few signs and banners to the front of Dutton Hall. Besides the small signs everywhere that said, “No Tuition Hikes,” there was a huge poster of the list of the three main student demands posted near the doors, a gigantic sign that explained financial aid was closed and why from the protesters viewpoint, and a big banner calling for a general strike at UC Davis. The RNs and many teachers were already on strike.
Teach-Ins, Power, Organizing And Goals
Returning to my van I ate lunch, caught up on phone calls and drove off in search of a coffee shop to get online. I finished my internet business just in time to head back to UC Davis for the fog clearing and the Teach-Ins. The Teach-Ins scheduled an hour apart in the geodesic dome for November 29 by UC Davis professors or associate professors included Ari Kelman speaking about “Radicalism in the 1910s,” Victoria Langland, “Student Activism In Brazil, 1960,” Bob Ostertag, “Power and Approaches to Organizing,” and Larry Bogad, “Tactical Performance, Radical Spectacles.” Because it was just a little after 3:00 pm when I arrived at the Occupy UC Davis Information Booth, Professor Bob Ostertag had just begun leading his mix of discussion and lecture.
I made some photographs of the gathered group, gradually listening more closely to the discussion and Dr. Bob Ostertag’s captivating approach. As described at the heading of his recent article about Occupy UC Davis for the Huffington Post, Professor Bob Ostertag is a composer, historian, journalist, and Professor of Technocultural Studies, Film and Music at UC Davis. The students were highly focused, serious, and determined but they were for the most part without strong leadership and a well defined, unified direction. Many of them wanted to nominate leaders but others were also hesitant to do so. At the same time, they were concerned that the movement they had started continue and not fizzle out.
Professor Bob Ostertag witnessed some activism in South America and had other relevant experience leading groups. He defined the difference between organizing and mobilizing in non-violent movements. He pointed out that Police Officer John Pike pepper sprayed a line of seated students and suddenly 3,000 people turned out and mobilized, but at that time had yet to truly organize. The other part of the discourse I listened in on concerned setting goals. In my observation anger and outrage at the Police brutality were the primary motivators, as I easily understand, but Professor Ostertag helped to spark debate among the students about what their ultimate goals for the movement were. Occupy UC Davis’ immediate demands are for Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign, Police off campus with an alternative safety force and a freeze on tuition fee increases. In addition many other ideas were bandied around including the creation of feedback mechanisms in the University of California system allowing more student input to decisions and the reversal of the trend toward privatization of public education.
What Is At Stake?
In Dr. Bob Ostertag’s poignant piece for the Huffington Post he wrote:
Yes, there were about 200 people in the quad. It is a piece of grass that was placed by the designers of the campus to be an open, central meeting place for the university community. But somehow, 200 students in the quad has become a problem. A huge problem. A problem so big that, well, yeah it was too bad those kids got pepper sprayed, but hey, there were 200 people in the quad.
Like the chancellor, Chief Spicuzza justified the assault by saying that the protest was “not safe for multiple reasons,” none of which she specified.
How is it that non-violent student protest has suddenly become “unsafe” in the United States?
Good question, how is it indeed…?
Is it possible that certain factions have helped us learn to give up our rights? Is the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights now a sham, merely an outdated philosophical façade? Fox news anchor Bill O’Reilly has the answer: “I don’t think we have the right to Monday-morning quarterback the police. Particularly at a place like UC Davis, which is a fairly liberal campus.” Wait a minute, if we still have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, then the Police work for us. When did we give up the right to direct the way they respond, especially to peaceful protests?