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Summary of Events: UCSC Protests Regents Visit
With misinformation rampant about the protest of the UC Regents visit to UC Santa Cruz, here's one student activist's attempt to provide one perspective of the story
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 hundreds of students and workers at UC Santa Cruz marched on a gathering of the UC Regents, using a variety of tactics to forestall, disrupt, and eventually lock-down a 'public comment period,' which they called a "farce." The action was an attempt to highlight the undemocratic, unaccountable, and illegitimate nature of the Regents, asserting the need to democratize the UC system, while demanding that the university fix a score of core problems before considering expansion. Read Why We're Here and What We're Fighting For
The action started with a rally at the Bay Tree Plaza, before marching up to the new Humanities Building at Cowell College. There, a community speak-out was held for a good period of time before more direct action was taken. Then, what was supposed to only have been a 30 minute 'public comment period' turned into a three hour standoff, as protesters, after a failed attempt to prevent the Regents' entry to the building, eventually encircled the area, blocking all 5 exits. As protest tactics escalated and the police became increasingly angry and frusterated with their inability to control some of the protesters, they targeted three activists, took them to the ground, and dragged them inside the building. As students struggled to prevent the abduction of their friends, they were met with a barrage of batons and pepper-spray sent forth from the retreating officers. With the police inside and all doors closed, the stunned crowd sat dazed while a few students assisted those who who were hit by the cops and their pepper-spray.
Now with 3 hostages, the police and administration were able to take a semblance of control back. While 30 recently-arrived riot-cops geared up in a nearby parking lot, the community got together to talk about how to get out of this situation. They'd made their point, they said, they'd disrupted the Regents visit, preventing their issues from being ignored yet again, and now they wanted to ensure the safe release of their friends. After a long period of negotiations involving students, workers, faculty members and the administration, a deal was finally made.
First, a student and a faculty member would be allowed into the building to ensure that the 3 students detained inside were ok. Then, the students, who had agreed to the deal by a group consensus process, were to not cross a specific line and allow all the Regents and police to go out a back door into their University-supplied buses. Finally, the 3 detained students would be cited and then they, and the two sent in to check on them, would be released.
An odd sight this was. Hundreds of protesters, silent, standing behind an imaginary line, so as not to jeapardize the release of their friends. Some may say that this was a sign of compliance with authority but I see it a very different way - it was a sign of power. They proved that if they stand up and be bold, they can reclaim what is rightfully theirs. The only power that the administration and the police had was to abduct their friends - using violence and the threat of imprisonment to assert their control over the protesters. Keeping activist hostages in cuffs and in custody was their only way of ensuring that the students wouldn't interfere with the Regents not-so-sweet goodbye.
The hasty agreement worked more-or-less as planned. As is common in a beaurocracy, everything took a lot longer - especially when it came to letting the detained students go. But as the sun dissapeared and the protest neared the end of its fifth hour, finally all were let free. Hugs were had, citations were displayed, and stories were shared. We knew that we would have a struggle ahead of us - the administration would inevitably try to make an example out of those were were targeted - but for now we were back together. And that, at least for the night, was enough.
Some random points and tidbits:
* It's important to note that the protesters were not one homogenous block. In fact, for much of the event, a community speak-out was held where everyone had the opportunity to touch on issues they felt passionate about. Many of those who didn't feel comfortable with the tone of some of what went on were involved with the speak-out instead of those flare-ups of intensity. You'll find many different perspectives from students and workers at the action, so don't assume that everyone feels the same way. I think it's fair to say that all of us that were there, in one way or another, had frusterations with and criticisms of the action.
* Rumor is that while the Regents were blocked inside the building, one of them was reading the Disorientation Guide's chapter on, you guessed it, the Regents!
* UCSC spokeswoman Liz Irwin has claimed in numerous newspapers that 'the protest did not disrupt the event.' Yet, she also mentions that two of the three arestees have been charged with 'disturbing a public assembly.' How can you simultaneously charge people with disruption while asserting that the event was not disturbed? Lying Liz strikes again!
* The University administration has yet to express any regret or concern over the beating and pepper-spraying of students. You'd think they'd be more concerned about the safety of the community.
* While two white activists (a man and a woman) arrested were charged with 'disturbing a public assebly' and 'resisting arrest,' an African American woman arrested was given significantly higher charges - battery of a police officer (a felony), amongst other things. Its important to note that one of the primary white male police officers involved in her assault and arrest has a history of physical attacks on her, going back to at least the spring of 2005. This is also the same cop who has been consistently seen at protests pretending to be an activist while videotaping students.
* According to sources inside the building, apparently the cops are tired of being sent to protests all the time. They don't feel like it's a good use of their time and training. Police at the event included officers from UCSC, UCSF, UC Berkeley, SCPD, and the County Sherrif's office. It's become about a twice-a-year practice to bring police from Berkeley to respond to protests at UCSC.
BEFORE YOU COMMENT...
1) Read Why We're Here and What We're Fighting For
2) Check out the various photos, videos and commentaries that have been posted. Try to move beyond the corporate press' reports and attempt to understand what really happened and what students were so passionate about.
3) Think constructively about the future. Of course it's important to analyze the events of the day, but how can we move forward in a way that seriously addresses these issues in a strategic way? As such, think about what you would do if you were in the place of the student organizers. Don't just 'suggest' or 'critique,' without recognizing all the pressures organizers have to deal with.