Revolution #250, November 15, 2011
The Occupy Movement has arrived at UC Berkeley!
"The Occupy Movement has arrived. This is beautiful."
—a UC Berkeley student organizer quoted in the Daily Cal on November 9
Occupy Cal was born on Wednesday November 9, in a surge of student protest fueled by anger and outrage, the Occupy Wall Street movement and Occupy Oakland. It was met with brutal repression by the police and school administration.
Thousands of University of California Berkeley students walked out of classes or held their classes outside, then marched and rallied in a day of action to protest obscene tuition increases, an unequal system of education and to join with the occupy movement.
At noon Sproul Plaza was packed with 3,000-4,000 students. At the end of the rally, over a thousand students marched through the streets of Berkeley to the Bank of America. Students then met in a general assembly. By a vote of 456 to 1 the students passed the following resolution: "We the UC Berkeley general assembly hereby establish an encampment on the UC Berkeley campus in order to … help the university become what it always should have been: open and free to all … We disagree with the idea that this university and this land are the property of the UC Regents, the vast majority of whom hail from the 1 percent."
As soon as students started to put up tents in a small grassy area next to the administration building they had to face off with lines of riot police including Alameda County Sheriffs who were brought in to supplement the campus and city police. Students linked arms in an attempt to stop the police from getting to and ripping down the tents.
Videos of the police attacking students with bully clubs as the students chanted "peaceful protest," "we’re just standing here," and "stop beating students" were posted all over the internet. A 90-second YouTube of the police attack (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buovLQ9qyWQ) went viral with over 600,000 hits.
Later in the evening the police attacked again, beating students and ripping down tents. Over 2,000 students—as well as hundreds from Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco—again turned out around midnight to protect Occupy Cal, preventing the campus cops from tearing down the last tent until late the next morning.
The Daily Californian student newspaper wrote: "Ashley Pinkerton, a UC Berkeley senior, reported getting hit with a baton by police. ‘We were linked arms, peacefully, when they were stabbing and beating people as hard as they could, it hurt really bad when they got me in the stomach,’ she said, visibly sweating."
Another student, from a conservative family in Orange County, told the Daily Cal that he came to support the other protesters after witnessing the police brutality. "I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. So I came down, and I was part of the chain when the police made their second push. I was thrown to the ground, but it wasn’t that bad compared to what happened to other people."
In response students voted to organize and call for a general strike for Tuesday, November 15.
Thirty-nine protesters and one faculty member were arrested during the day. An Open Letter from University Faculty describes the arrest of Associate Professor Celeste Langan saying she "offered her wrist to the police in surrender, saying ’arrest me, arrest me,’ but was nevertheless aggressively pulled by her hair to the ground and cuffed." Another faculty member had broken ribs. A Black student from Saint Mary’s College in Oakland was singled out and charged with a felony for no apparent reason. While in jail he was subjected to racist taunts by police and sheriffs who accused him of being a gang member and asked to see his tattoos.
The police and campus administration defended their brutality. University of California Police Captain Margo Bennett said, "The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence...I understand that many students may not think that, but linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest." This was echoed by University Chancellor in a November 10 letter to the campus community, "It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience."
An Open Letter to Chancellor Birgeneau, the UC Berkeley administration, and the UC Regents written by three members of the university faculty and signed by more than 2,200 faculty began by demanding, "You should all resign!" It continued:
"We are appalled by the Chancellor’s account, in his November 10 ‘Message to the Campus Community,’ that the police were "forced to use their batons.’ We strenuously object to the charge that protesters—by linking arms and refusing to disperse—engaged in a form of ’violence’ directed at law enforcement. The protests did not justify the overwhelming use of force and severe bodily assault by heavily armed officers and deputies. Widely-circulated documentation from videos, photographs, and TV news outlets make plainly evident the squad tactics and individual actions of members of the UCPD and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. This sends a message to the world that UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and student protesters are regarded on their own campus with suspicion and hostility rather than treated as participants in civil society."
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