An exhausting and exhilarating day at the #OccupyUCDavis rally

A blur. That is what this day represents. A serious blur. I got up not so early, not so late, since my kids are off school this week. And I started prepping for my day about town. At 12 noon there was to be a rally of some kind in regard to the pepper spraying incident on campus.

I have been consumed with this issue since Friday when the spraying of protestors happened in the “quad” at UC Davis. And I had been posting relentlessly to twitter and my blog and posterous and Facebook and, well, all over. I had no idea how this day was going to play out. Would Chancellor Katehi show up to the rally? Would she speak? What would other people say? Would the tents go up again? How many people would show up? Would it be peaceful (I assumed yes). Would there be any police around? And so on.

After finally having breakfast, I was getting ready to leave when the REAL blurriness began:

Well that could be a bad omen for today
11/21/11 10:02 AM

A bad omen?  Uggh.  First I dug out my cycling glasses and put them on.  They are prescription but a bit weird looking.  And I was possibly going to have to wear them all day.  And then, of course, I posted a pic to twitter.  The responses made me less fretful.

@phylogenomics lol
11/21/11 10:03 AM
@phylogenomics let’s hope not. 😉
11/21/11 10:03 AM
@phylogenomics use your inner sight.
11/21/11 10:04 AM
Some things you best not see. RT @phylogenomics: Well that could be a bad omen for today
11/21/11 10:16 AM
@phylogenomics tape it, say you are Harry Potter 😉
11/21/11 10:17 AM

And then I found a pair of old glasses – maybe 4-5 years old.  And voila, back in business – a bit crooked.  But no longer blurry (from a vision point of view at least).

Then I packed up my bag with all sorts of blogging/tweeting/photo gear and headed to UC Davis campus.  I parked my bike over by the side of the quad and headed over to see what was going on.  There were a few people starting to accumulate on the quad at this point but not many:

But there were a lot of people over by the Student Union (next to the quad).  Most of these people were apparently from the press but at least there were people there.  There were also many people starting to make signs, including a few little kids, which was also good to see. I took a bunch of pics as I wandered around:

I then bumped into Keith Bradnam, from the UC Davis Genome Center.  And we talked about the events of the last few days, as well as about blogging/tweeting about the events (he is a fellow postaholic).  I went inside to get a drink from the Coffee House and then came back out.  I took a few more pictures as the crowd started to grow:

I then discovered a group gathering around the circle where the flowers had been placed as a “memorial” to the pepper spraying incident.  The group it turns out was partly associated with a course at UC Davis that had ventured outside for class that day.  The class was some sort of art course and the professor was talking to the students.  Then they broke out some wire and wire cutters and started making mini tents to set up in the circle.  I lingered there for a while and took a lot of pics (as I note, so did lots of photographers).

Although I had thought I would only observe things at the rally and not participate I was moved by this activity.  And so I made my own “tent” too.  I added the button I had been wearing that I had taken from my collection, to make a little personal statement.

Then someone came over and said that it was “time” to move on over to the stage for the rally to being.  So I moseyed on over.  I note – the crowd was now getting to be much bigger.  The people in the crowd were very pleasant and were a mixed crew.  I recognized many professors, staff and students from campus as well as a few “townies”.  Many of the people were doing something – carrying a sign – or taking pictures.  And there was a relatively pleasant buzz.  I could not sense any anger.  I took a few more pictures and somehow finagled my way to the front of the crowd at the stage where the press were collecting.

And then there were some equipment checks:

And the rally began.  A series of speakers gave short talks about the trauma they suffered during the incident Friday (most of these had been pepper sprayed, a few had not).  And I continued to snap away.  Here is a selection of pics I took of those first speakers and the crowd.

I note – I also recorded some video of the talks using my iPad.  These videos are below:

Then came some talks by people who could be viewed more as “organizers” of Occupy related movements.  This included many folks from the English department at UC Davis as well as multiple union representatives.  It was during this part that the rally began to take a bit of what one could call a “socialist” point of view with a lot of discussion of financial issues locally and in the world. Here are some of the pics I took:

The crowd at this point was very very big and pretty loud (and I note – I seemed to know many of them – kept bumping into current and past students).  And many of the speakers seemed a bit overwhelmed when they got up to the stage to see all the people there.  I note – there were some very anti-Katehi talks during this part.  The most passionate was Nathan Brown who had been rallying the anti-Katehi movement for the last few days.  His talk was very very passionate.  And he even went so far as to propose that police should be removed completely from UC campuses.  He did not convince me on that point, but his points about the failures of the UC administration were hard to ignore.  And his rhetoric was, well, very skilled.  Here is a link to a video of his talk.

Next up were some young kids whose connection to the rally was not entirely clear but they were very passionate:

And then we were back to some professor type speakers.

Then the rally switched over to some representatives of various student groups and they talked about how the pepper spray incident affected them.

And then it was time.  Time for Chancellor Katehi to speak.  She came to the stage and talked for a VERY short period of time.  She apologized for the incident.  And she seem very very upset.  And she said she was not going to resign and that she going to lead the University through the crisis and try and institute many changes to make sure this type of thing did not happen again.  She briefly mentioned a sign someone had about an incident at a Greek University in 1973 but did not provide any detail other than that she was there at the time (note – for more on this see here).  And then she left.  Here is a link to a video of her talk.

I should say I have been a huge Katehi fan since she came to UC Davis.  Just about everything she did I liked in some way.  But her handling of this crisis has been really quite bad.  I am not calling for her to resign at this point, though I think the decision to send in riot police to remove protestors/tents was a horrid one.  I would personally like to know a bit more detail about what happened before deciding whether and whom I expect to lose their jobs over this.  Though I note, I completely understand the passionate calls for her to resign. What happened was inexcusable and horrendous and, well, really stupid.

That being said, though I am not calling for her resignation at this point, I do expect her to lead.  And right now I have not seen much in the way of ideas/leadership coming from her.  She could, for example, say that charges will be dropped for the people arrested during/after the pepper spray incident.  She could say that there will be an outside investigation, not an internal one, into the events.  She could say specific things that the University will do to prevent such incidents in the future.  Based upon her prior record I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  But changes and action better happen fast.

Anyway – the rally continued.  Clearly the organizers did not want the focus to be on Katehi and her talk.  The next speaker was not impressed with Katehi’s talk and vocally called for her resignation as she was walking away.

Then a few other speakers wrapped up the “rally”

The rally then changed over into a Student Government Association meeting.  I lingered for a bit and took a few more pictures.

And then I spent some time wandering through the crowd trying to take pictures of interesting signs or people and such.

While I was walking around, I note, that the students voted to have a general strike on campus on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Anyway, I planned to head on over to hear my colleague lecture for our class at 3.  I had about an hour to kill before then so I sat down by some of the TV trucks and tried to connect back to the web to post some pictures and notes.  I got some soup, and sat down next to someone at a table by one of the TV trucks and logged on.  Turns out the person I sat next to was from CBS13 and we talked on/off for a bit.  And then their reporter Checkey Beckford sat down to eat her lunch too and we all talked for a bit about the pepper spraying incident and the UC Davis response.  And I got caught up in all this. And then even when they left I continued to work on posting pictures, not realizing that our class had started.  By the time I realized it was really too late to go.

So I got up and wandered around some more and took some more pictures of the next phase of the OccupyUCDavis activities – part of which included setting up tents and a big geodesic dome.

And then I had to head home.  I kind of wanted to stay through the night to see how things went.  But that would not work out well with the family.  So I left.

Overall the day was exhausting.  But exhilarating too.  I did not agree with everything everyone said or did.  But that was not the point.  The power and the passion of the protestors and the people of the University. That was the point.  I left feeling good about UC Davis again.  Not sure what will happen tomorrow.  But the people on campus have risen above the pepper spraying.  They have shown strength beyond what I could have ever imagined.   The world is certainly watching now.  But I am not too worried.  I like what I see.

Adding some links here to other stories about this day

About Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis
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