While my 8th grade students are learning about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the American Revolution, history is being made right in front of us. Colonists, in the form of UC Davis students, are rebelling against the Red Coats, in the form of the administration and the government. And just like in the Revolution, it all started with a shot heard round the world. Only this time the shot came from a can of pepper spray.
What began on Nov. 15 as a peaceful Occupy UCD protest on the university quad climaxed as a violent confrontation between students and police. Students, tired of being “taxed” for their education, revolted against their oppressors, the “government.” They organized and chanted: “Black, brown, Asian, White, 99 percent unite”. The problem is, as they organized, they did not count on the 50-plus police officers turning their revolution into a full-fledged attack.
Armed only with signs proclaiming “Beat Wall Street Not Students” and “People Over Profit,” students occupied administration buildings the first day and then the quad the next. They were asked to leave, but they didn’t, so they were arrested. And as they sat peacefully, they were systematically doused with yellow flumes pepper spray. With their message clear, the police then dispersed, leaving students in pain and confusion.
And now I’m confused. What really is happening here? Students and professors acted within their rights to peacefully assemble and voice their freedom of speech on their campus that they have paid inflated prices to attend. Aren’t the salaries of these officers paid by the students whom they are supposed to protect?
Everyone knows the status of public education in California. There’s not enough money to run programs, pay salaries, or equip facilities to meet 21st century standards. Protest chants of “Education must be free, no cuts, no fees” have been shouted by university students and professors trying to get their message out. And in return, they are silenced with spray?
Who is leading this revolution? How can the tables turn from a peaceful protest to police intervention?
Police are not supposed to be part of the problem. If seated students linking arms are not breaking the law, don’t spray them. If they are breaking the law, then why did the police spray and then leave the scene?
Where have the students’ rights gone? Systematically arresting students would seem to both acknowledge their rights to occupy their own campus as well as send a message to others to disperse or accept the consequences. Where are the people’s rights over profit here?
Maybe the police didn’t count on the students’ ability to fight back with media. Armed with cell phones and video cameras, our tech-savvy citizens’ ability to tweet and harness the power of the web provided them invaluable ammunition to their fight. The cameras do not lie — they are just another tool for nonviolent protestors to gather their troops and spread the word. The Red Coats are coming. Link together. Stand strong in the face of oppressors.
So now we prepare for a revolution with the real message becoming lost in the muddle of the war. The issue is far from over. The troops are now strategizing, both sides arming themselves and readying to launch a new offensive. And as Patrick Henry tried to teach us over 300 years ago, “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government-lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”
Maybe everyone should sit down together on the grass for a minute and think about that.