Yesterday, Occupy UC Davis held a massive rally to protest the infamous pepper spraying incident. Most establishment estimates say the crowd that formed on the UC Davis quad was around 2,000 people. Others argue that’s a conservative estimate. No matter what the actual number, it was a show of clear strength from the Occupy movement, it was a statement that Occupy isn’t going away, and that Occupy UC Davis can’t be scared off.
Most media have focused on Chancellor Katehi’s “apology”. Chancellor Katehi faced the crowd of protesters to try and do damage control, in her words, to apologize for what happened. Chancellor Katehi was very brave for facing the crowd. She does deserve honor and respect for speaking to students, when she easily could have avoided the press and the crowds all day, a popular tactic of many university administrators. But it should also be noted that she did not apologize for ordering the police to remove students. She stated “I feel really horrible for what happened on Friday” and “I am sorry for what hapaned”. Neither statement takes ownership for her role in this drama. Yes she has said that she takes full responsibility for what happened, and that is a great first step. But at no point has Chancellor Katehi said “I am sorry that I personally ordered UC Davis police to break up the Occupy Davis protest.”
Some may see the distinction being drawn as splitting hairs. If she took responsibility for what happened, and said she was sorry that it happened, what more is there to say? For one thing that she will from now on respect students’ rights to free speech and free assembly. That in the future she will not order police to disperse a peaceful gathering of student protesters. She may feel terrible for what happened, and it may be that what happened were not her intentions, but so do the students and the faculty at UC Davis feel terrible about what happened. It is great that she can empathize with students and faculty, but that empathy needs to transform her views on the issue. Katehi needs to admit that by ordering police to arrest students she was disregarding the First Amendment, and that in the future she will not be so reckless. She didn’t say that, and so as far as her public comments can be taken she is saying “I feel bad for what happened, but I will not promise to respect student free speech and free assembly in the future”. That is the other side of the police brutality coin; yes police were violent, but they were violent after the university ruled that peaceful students expressing a political sentiment were gathering unlawfully and against university policy. The university has to address both issues.
But the media gets lost by focusing just on Chancellor Katehi’s appearance. That wasn’t what was at the heart of yesterday’s rally. At the heart of yesterday was that thousands of people gathered to show their support for Occupy movements that are facing police brutality on or off college campuses. No peaceful gathering expressing a political sentiment should face the fear of police brutality whether on a college campus or in a public park.
After the speeches were made, the giant rally turned into a huge General Assembly. General Assembly is the governing body of the Occupy movement. It is direct democracy in practice. Thousands participated in voting on two measures. One was to remove police from the campus all together, and police could only come onto the campus when called upon. This motion failed. The second motion was a general strike on November 28th. This motion passed, with over 9/10 of the thousands of people voting in its favor.
After the General Assembly students began to reconstruct their tent occupation on the quad. Monday night there was a large gathering of students and their tents set up. There was a large communal dome space constructed, an information area, a first aid area, and a kitchen all set up. Occupiers were forming committees and working groups. There was music and discourse. It was a festive atmosphere. The students camped there with no problems from police, and are holding another General Assembly today at 11 am. Chancellor Katehi is expected to attend.
For more information about Occupy UC Davis check out their facebook page, Occupy Davis’ website occasionally posts updates about Occupy UC Davis, or join them on the UC Davis quad.