Sunday, November 20, 2011

Defiance in Davis

Even though it's only just now started getting cold and snowy, it's already shaping up to be a harsh winter. Let's start afield: today, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where popular protests and demonstrations brought down the Mubarak regime and ignited the brightest lights of the Arab Spring earlier this year, the Egyptian police and military is attacking the demonstrators, burning tents and lobbing rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds. Mind you, these aren't Occupy protesters over there - their goals are rather more concrete, in that they want the military to specify when it's going to hand over control to a civilian government.

Nothing that would happen here in North America, right? Well, maybe they're just building up to it.

Closer to home, the Occupy movement has been in flux for a while. Part of that, I think, was an unavoidable aspect of the movement itself; as it spread beyond New York and more and more people took up its banner, the focus of some individual demonstrations drifted - I've heard that Occupy Vancouver, for instance, is now about homelessness. Police responses are likewise radically different from city to city - take the heavy-handed park eviction undertaken by the New York Police Department, for instance, and compare it to what are effectively battles between the police and demonstrators in Oakland, California, or the generally hands-off attitude that has dominated in places like Toronto or Vancouver.

And then there's Davis. Never heard of it? It's a university town outside Sacramento and the site of the University of California, Davis, physically the largest campus in the University of California system and with one of the highest enrollments. With an on-campus resident population of thousands of students, it's no surprise that UC Davis hosted its own Occupy demonstration. Some students started a camp-out demonstration in the university's quad on Thursday, but this wasn't going to fly with the university administration - word came down that the tents were to be removed by 3 PM on Friday, and many of them were.

Let's go to the Sacramento Bee's coverage of the event to see what happened next, shall we?

Shortly before 4 p.m., about 35 officers from UC Davis and other UC campuses as well as the city of Davis responded to the protest, said Annette Spicuzza, UC Davis police chief. They were wearing protective gear and some held batons.

The protest initially involved about 50 students, Spicuzza said, but swelled to about 200 as the confrontation with police escalated.

She said officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them. They used a sweeping motion on the group, per procedure, to avoid injury, she said.

The students were informed repeatedly ahead of time that if they didn't move, force would be used, she said.

Wait, I forgot, that's just news reporting - and biased reporting at that. Fortunately, we live in a world that includes YouTube, and where every last university student carries a video camera. So let's actually see what happened. The video is eight and a half minutes long, but you should watch the whole thing.

"I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere."
- Barack Obama

Look at that. Look at that. What the fuck is that? How does that have any resemblance to what the Bee claimed took place? Sure, they used pepper spray - on motionless students, seated on the ground, with arms linked, in non-violent protest! How can a row of seated students surround the police? How can a row of seated students with linked arms injure police aside from somehow making the cops trip over them? And yet, there goes UC Davis Police Lieutenant John Pike spraying them down like it ain't no thang, so casually that his face shield is raised, looking for all the world like a gardener spraying down the flowers.

By what fucking moon-man logic are they operating? What possible course of events could justify pepper-spraying motionless, unarmed demonstrators on the ground? Does this look like police that are surrounded, that are worried, that are trying to control the situation - or does this look like police who want to control the situation, who are using pepper spray to say "don't fuck with us, or you're next?" What would you think if you saw something like this on the news coming from a well-known beacon of democracy like China, say, or Iran? The fact that this is happening in the United States makes it even worse - the United States is supposed to be better than that.

The media, of course, is already in spin mode. Take that Sacramento Bee article, and look at the photo caption: "Students claimed police used pepper spray on people sitting on the ground. Police said officers had to use the spray when students surrounded them." Students claimed, police said. Think for a moment about the truth values generally associated with those words. Reading between the lines, to me it says, "this was what happened according to the students, but we're sure the police are really telling the truth."

It's been evident for a while that those in power dearly want the Occupy movement to go away, that one thing it has been doing has been helping to raise awareness about the malfeasance and criminality practiced by the sociopaths and scoundrels at the highest levels of society. Given enough time it may just have naturally dissipated on its own, but things like the events in Davis can have a galvanizing effect. They certainly galvanized me. If those in power want the Occupy movement to go away, I can't think of any better reason for it to stay and to grow. Obedience is not a virtue, and there are rewards in defiance.

Chad Inglis got to the core of it, I think, in a response to the original video post on my Facebook wall: "The best part about the Occupy movement is that it's making very plain the type of world we all live in. our governments are benevolent and kind, nothing like those bad ones overseas, right up until we start challenging them."

A government that can't withstand a challenge from its people is a government that doesn't deserve to be.

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