USA: Uncertain Future of Student Occupy Movement in California

This post is part of the special coverage of the #Worldwide Occupy Movement.

During the last few months, under the slogan: “Who's University? OUR University!”, the students of the University of California participating in the Occupy Movement have managed to carry out huge demonstrations on the Berkeley campus in Irvine, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz without much media coverage. However, this revolution has recently been brought to light following a pepper-spraying incident on November 18th, on the Davis campus of the University of California. The level of police brutality against peaceful students has now called the attention of the media, as well as brought to the table the discussion of authorities abusing of power. As a result, the movement has become stronger on all campuses, especially the Davis campus where students have continued to protest in order to force the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi.

The Pepper Spray Incident

On November 18th, a group of 50 students from the University of California, Davis, gathered with tents in the central park of the campus in order to protest the 40% increase in enrollment fees of the University of California (a total of $31,000 per year in Registration and Tuition), the high interest rates in university loans, and the reduction in state economy support.

At 12pm on Friday,  after receiving notice that they should evacuate the area, some demonstrators began leaving the campground. However, others stayed seated on the ground, forming a human chain by interlocking arms in order to protect their demonstration. At 3pm in the afternoon, Linda Katehi, University Chancellor, requested for the police to remove the encampment. One hour later, approximately 20 officials faced the demonstrators who were now receiving support from almost 200 by-standers.Two of the uniformed policemen then threw pepper spray over the students who were seated on the ground. The following video shows the provoked outrage of the by-standers who began surrounding the policemen and shouting for the police to remove themselves from the demonstration.

Ten people were detained from the subsequent riot. Some of the injured students were attended to by medical personnel and others were taken to the health clinic. In a few cases, some students were even forced to hold oxygen masks over their mouths.The actions of the policemen were recorded by those who were present at the event and have been circulated on the Internet through various social networks. The videos have been commented in several different languages and the image of the pepper-spraying policemen has now become an Internet meme.

The Consequences and the Anger of the Students

On the same day as the demonstrations, one of the campus professors wrote a public letter to Katehi requesting her resignation as well as describing the emotions of many university students. The letter has now been shared via many different mediums of press, calling attention to the incident last Friday. Katehi gave a press conference on Saturday November 19th during whic, hundreds of students surrounded the campus building where the Dean was and awaited her exit in order to accompany her in silence to her vehicle. The following video shows one of the students who had been injured by the pepper spray, giving instructions regarding Katehi's exit from the building.

More than 100  thousand students and supporters of the Occupy UC Movement have signed a petition for Katehi to resign from her position owing to the pepper spray incident.

The Occupation

Occupy UC Davis

Photo by author, Soraya Sacaan.

From the day of the assembly to date, 120 tents have been put up in the Central Quad, including a dome structure for the professors who support the cause to carry out classes within the movement.

As such, student organization has been exemplary. The students have a list of daily activities that is publicized on Aggie News (the UC Davis students’ newspaper), they have made a list that allows the donation of tents through, an online donations website, a Facebook page, an #OccupyUCDavis tag as well as a Twitter user account @OccupyUCDavis. A huge portion of the activities are also being transmitted through streaming on the Internet. In addition, they have also created a text message alert system that keeps them informed in the case of police acts that are geared against the occupation.

On November 28th, the students organized a strike on the basis of a proposal that was approved by 99.6% of the movement. The demonstrators entered the administrative building of UCD known as Dutton Hall and took up an entire area, putting up almost 15 tents in and around the building. The occupation of the building has been extended until mid-December.

Occupy UC Davis en Dutton Hall imagen de The Aggie

Photo by Arturo Calderón O. Republished with his permission.

Katehi, Penn State and the FBI

Chancellor Linda Kathei, a Greece native, mentioned in the General Assembly that she had participated as a student during the 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising, and she did not want something so similar to be repeated in Davis. She has admitted that she does indeed need to gain the trust of the students. On the other hand, the press has bet against the Chancellor in obtaining the confidence of the public.

Various different media sources have linked Katehi with Graham Spanier, former Chancellor of Penn State University, who was accused of abusing his authority in order to cover up cases of child sexual abuse. Since 2005, both individuals have been members of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, which works towards “fostering outreach and promoting understanding between higher education and the FBI”. The intention of the board is to compile information regarding whatever professor or student activity of the participating universities is considered subversive.

The Future

During the next few weeks, a series of meetings will be held in order to decide the future of the movement. As such, the local media, especially the university channel AggieTV, will be following the Occupy UC Davis Movement. However, a permanent unease still remains over the change of opinion of the university officials, in spite of the order from Katehi not to remove the students from the Quad as it was “a peaceful activity”.

You can follow the movement as well as the media coverage through the hash tag #OccupyUCDavis , Aggie Tv, The Aggie Newspaper and the website UC Davisweb.

This post is part of the special coverage of the #Worldwide Occupy Movement.


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