Sunday, November 20, 2011

My accidental encounter with the #OccupyUCDavis crowd at #UCDavis #impressed

Well, yesterday was certainly interesting.  In the morning I biked into Davis to go to the Farmer's Market to pick up some goodies.  It was a spectacular fall day - crisp - clear - a bit chilly - and I great day to be on a bike.

I got to the market, wandered through the crowd and bumped into a few colleagues and friends and was a bit stunned to find out that none of them had even heard about the pepper spraying incident the day before on UC Davis Campus.  Wow.  It had taken over my life in a way all night - see my post about it here: A day of almost pure joy in #DavisCA and at #UCDavis, until ... #OccupyUCDavis

So I told them about the incident, and then did some shopping.  It all seemed a bit surreal.  I felt disconnected.  So after filling up my panniers, I biked over to campus.  The Quad at UC Davis - where the whole pepper spray incident had gone down - was eerily quiet.

I stopped to post the pics:
  • Went by #ucdavis quad today - hauntingly empty - but talked to protestor planning massive event Monday

I biked around the quad and it all seemed a bit creepy with nobody out there.  Then I saw a UC Davis Tour being led through the quad and I wondered what exactly they would say about the incident.  But they headed inside the Student Union so I decided it was time to bike home.  I headed back around the top of the quad area and saw another tour.  This time, a biker came up next to me and then passed and went up to the tour.  And he shouted something about "better tell them about the pepper spray".  And then he kept riding towards downtown Davis.  I caught up to him and asked him, in my still sultry laryngitis tinged voice - if he had been there the day before.  He said yes - he had been sprayed and was still pissed off.  We talked for a bit about the craziness of the whole thing (he was an undergrad) and then he told me that Monday they planned a much bigger operation in the Quad with hundreds of tents.  He said they had received many donations of tents to help set things up.

We then went our separate ways but I was left with a feeling of being a bit out of touch.

I went home and kind of stewed in my own juices, reading about the incident and the responses and the calls for the Chancellor to resign. Now - I really like the UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi.  I think she has done an absolutely fantastic job as chancellor in every single thing she has done (prior to this incident).  She has hired excellent administrators.  She has gotten rid of bad ones.  She has tried to reduce expenses on campus in a humane way.  She has been pushing to get private funds to supplement the ever reducing funds from the State.  And I think she is in general a great leader - inspiring in many ways.  So the calls for her to resign over this felt like a kick in the gut.  Now mind you - I have not been impressed with what has transpired here - first the order to bring in the police and then the responses to what happened.  But prior to this event I would have gone to the end to the world for her.  And I was not going to join the call for her to resign without some clearer picture of what happened here.

Then I heard from a tweet from the California Aggie that there was going to be a press conference at 4 PM on Campus in a Building Called Surge II with Katehi and the UC Davis Police Chief. This seemed like it was the most important incident perhaps in the history of UC Davis or at least in the last 10-20 years.  And as I am a prominent promoter of UC Davis in my blog, I figured I should go.  I figured, they probably would not let me in but I should try.  After all - I am a blogger - that could count as the press right?

So at 3:10 PM I hopped in my car (bike had some issues that needed fixing) and drove to campus - scouted out parking by Surge II (nobody was there yet) but decided to park a bit further away in case crowds grew.  So I parked in a lot a few hundred yards away and got out and walked over to the small building where the Press Conference was going to be.  I got there and outside there were about 15 people milling around.  

I went up to them and asked if they were letting people in to the Press Conference.  They said they were not allowed in.  So I stopped and chatted with a few of the people there and took a few pictures.  

I guess this was some of the heart of the OccupyUCDavis protest crowd.  They were discussing with each other how Katehi had come out a few minutes before to talk to them and what she had said.  But I felt a bit awkward joining in their conversation because I was not there to officially join the protest.  I was there to try and get into the Press Conference.  So I tried to get in.  I knocked on the door and was told that the room was too small to allow anyone else in.  I did not tell them that all the public affairs and UCD press people in there probably knew me - that seemed lame.  I said "well, I am kind of a reporter" or something like that.  But no go.  I tweeted a comment:
  • Oh well - just got told I cannot attend the #ucdavis press conference on pepper spray incident "room to small" #occupyucdavis
O got some responses including from MarilynM on twitter
  • MarilynM @phylogenomics hmmm....of course it would be "too small" convenient. :(
Other people tried to get in too a little bit later and were also herded away.

Oh well.  So I posted the pic with a complaint.

So I had now turned from someone who had hoped to ask questions and report on the press conference to someone who was going to report from the outside.

I then saw a TV truck pull by down the street and took a picture and posted it

And then Marilyn M responded

  • MarilynM @phylogenomics do you know which station? (i tweeted all 4 in Sac to ask if they'd be there.)
And so I realized there were people reading my live tweets and interested in them.  And so I decided to be the eyes for people on the ground.  A reporter if you will.  So that is then what I tried to be.
And I took some more pics of the TV trucks as they arrived:

The crowd began to grow a bit and I focused for a while on taking some pics and video of the crowd:

I basically lingered outside the SurgeII building as the protestors tried to disrupt the press conference and have their voices be heard.  While I was there I must say I was generally impressed with the OccupyUCDavis crowd.  They were very upset about the pepper spraying but were trying to turn their anger into something useful.  They wanted their voices to be heard.  They very friendly overall, dedicated to peaceful protest mostly (there were some chants here and there that I did not like - like one calling for the police officer involved in the spraying to come out - but this chant was stopped quickly from within the crowd).  And overall they seemed genuinely concerned with UC Davis and its future.  They were also very very upset that the Chancellor did not choose to have a press conference where they could attend.

The crowd was also quite mixed in background.  There were many undergrads and grad students there.  But also post docs, faculty and others.  I saw some faculty I knew and talked to them for a bit.  And I saw a few students I knew too.  The crowd eventually grew to be maybe a few hundred people.

And at one point they decided it was time to try and disrupt the press conference.  They then proceeded to march from one side of the building to another where a door was open and they thought maybe they could be heard better through the door.  I filmed the march:

Every once in a while during this someone would report on what was going on in the press conference which was live streaming on some channels.  Cheers erupted when apparently the chanting from outside put the conference on hold.  Information was pretty fluid outside the building.  At one point someone went up and down the aisles of people saying the Hiliary Clinton had just called for Katehi to resign on twitter.  I figured that must be misinformation, but it did get the crowd excited for a minute.

I filmed some other videos too

Eventually it was clear the press conference was over and Chancellor Katehi was looking for a way to get out of the building.  The protestors clearly wanted to see her and engage her in some way and they waited and waited but no Katehi.  They kept trying to coordinate placing people at the various exits to the building and at one point they were even allowed into the building through various entrances but I guess there were not allowed into the room where the press conference was happening.

I was impressed with how the crowd desperately wanted to be peaceful.  They kept offering (in the form of chants) statements that they would give Katehi a clear way out of the building when she wanted to leave.  And then another chant would break out saying something about how she should resign.

And then alas I had to go home to my kids.  As I was getting ready to go the crowd was trying to form a line of sorts in which Katehi would be allowed to pass if she came out.

And then it was time for me to go

Overall I left being very impressed with the OccupyUCDavis protestors.  I still did not agree with the call for Katehi to resign.  I guess I want(ed) more information about who decided what. And that is why I wanted to go to the press conference.  I was going there open to the possibility that she made mistakes but that the most egregious ones may have ben made by others.  I still have not seen the press conference so I am going to check it out and see if it adds anything to the story.  In the end, I think she has been such a great Chancellor so far that I am going into this willing to wait for more details before joining the choruses calling for resignation.

Though I note - I am so far extremely disappointed with the UCD responses to the incident and extremely disturbed by the incident itself.  There must be major changes and they should not wait for a 90 day investigation.  It seems pretty clear that the truth is not emerging from the UC Davis officials - it is only coming out via video and interviews and posts from the protestors and witnesses.  From what I can tell the UCD police are definitely being deceptive and/or completely dishonest about what happened.  I personally have ben unsure whether the UCD administration is doing the same.  But it certainly is starting to seem like a possibility.   I think the jobs of many of the UCD higher ups involved in this hang by a thin thread right now.  But when I left the protests, I was not willing to say we should cut that thread just yet.  I wanted to be measured in response to the outrageous unmeasured actions of the UCD police.

So I went home.  And then I saw the most amazing thing.  The video of the response of the protestors to Katehi leaving the building is incredible.  An absolutely amazing show of solidarity, peace and wisdom.

All I can say is - wow.  An iconic moment.  Though I was not there for the actual moment I felt like I was there in spirit.  The OccupyUCDavis protestors in a single moment have made a statement that will last forever.  And they alone seem to be the ones carrying the torch for a restoration of the good name of UC Davis that has been plunged into the depths by this crisis.  It is these silent protestors that hold the spirit of the University.  Whose University?  Our University.


  1. The silence was a deeply moving way to appeal to the Chancellor and the UCD administration. I think it was in the very best of nviolent protest: firm but peaceful confrontation that seeks to resolve and change rather than punish. A brilliant and powerful decision on the part of the students. They make me proud.

    Thanks for documenting this for those of us who couldn't be there.

  2. Also thanks for your measured response to calls for her resignation. I felt too uninformed about the context and her general performance to join the call. No matter how upsetting this is, we need to demand changes that will result better behavior on the part of the administration and the police. I don't have a sense for whether her resignation would further that goal.

  3. Thanks Allen - they made me proud too

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  5. Thank you for posting this. I'm glad that I'm not the only one who, although horrified by the events of Friday, does not think that calling for the Chancellor's resignation is the solution to the problem. Additionally you might be interested to read this letter, written by the woman who walked the Chancellor to her car.

  6. The students make me proud to be UCD alumnus.

  7. Indeed, kudos to the protesters.
    For me , the most scary facts after the violence are actually the language practised by Ms. Katehi in her emails to the UC Davis community, (beginning with the endangered "health and safety of the students" and the police "assisting them" to vacate the quad) and the existence of such a large police force on campus force equipped with riot gear. I was completely unaware of it before. For what purpose does such a police force need to be maintained? In Europe this would be unthinkable.lancy