You guys needed to put out some more riot police to brutalize some college kids? These are Cal students, AKA some of the smartest people there are, so you’re not gonna get away with the same excuse you used in Oakland (an excuse that none of us buy, btw) and say they were just “some thugs."
And that friend of mine you beat? Yeah, he’s not only an honor student at Cal, he’s also a veteran. So think about it, police of the Bay Area, this is the 3rd veteran you’ve attacked. Are you really ready for more negative publicity?
Because you may think everyone is distracted by the shitshow posing as a GOP Presidential debate, but the world is watching and the world is fucking pissed.
Although we are “rivals” with Cal students, we are one where it matters — in an interest to create a more just and equitable world than the one we inherited. To that end, we stand in solidarity with students at UC Berkeley, who have continued the legacy of the student movement of the 1960s and the spirit of the nationwide Occupy protests in the formation of Occupy Cal.
We are dismayed that the conviction, courage and intellectual inquiry shown by the Cal students was met with patronizing brutality when it was these qualities that garnered their admission in the first place. We find it hard to fathom that students who care so passionately about current economic inequality, the state of affairs at their University and the world beyond their campus are not lauded for their audacity and yearnings for social justice, but are instead met with police batons and cold indifference from the university’s governing body. What is the purpose of collegiate education if not to allow students the intellectual freedom and agency to critique the world as it is and articulate a vision for the world as it should be?
The Occupy Cal movement is not seeking to encamp for encampment’s sake but to raise awareness around the fact that their tuition has the potential to rise 81 percent over the next 4 years, pending a vote by the UC Board of Regents. This fact becomes even more troubling when 25 percent of all Cal students are first-generation college going, and about 64 percent receive financial aid. Education and equity are tantamount to the future of our country, and we cannot stand idly by while UC Berkeley administrators, UCPD, and state legislators threaten the realization of said principles.
We encourage Cal students to continue to exercise their constitutional right of expression, whether it be in the Occupy movement, in inquiry inside the classroom or in whatever professions they choose in the future. In the same vein, we encourage Stanford students and students at universities throughout the country to exercise their rights and privilege to question the status quo, especially in regards to persistent inequality in a myriad of institutions. Because the future is actively created in the present, it is imperative that we fight not only for social justice but for a future worth inhabiting.
On the Expression of Rights by the Protesters of 'Occupy Cal'
As the year 2011 has run its course, the world over has seen an unstoppable force for revolution manifested in the Occupy movement. In November 2011, the movement proved a perfect vehicle for the students and faculty of UC Berkeley to express their concern with the UC Regents’ incessant passing of fee hikes; unfortunately, the peaceful protests that unfolded as “Occupy Cal” on the steps of Sproul Hall led to waves of deleterious actions by the UC Police Department, many of which were brutal and excessive. Taking the Occupy Cal protests to be expressions of Berkeley students’ rights to free speech and assembly, analysis of the students’ reasons for protest—as well as the nature of the UCPD’s response—offers an interesting look at the state of the students’ rights in the context of their educational careers.
If an action considered by the state (or, in this case, the authoritarian figure that is the UCPD) to be an offense tends to better the human equality of the so-called offender, then indeed the offender has been robbed of his or her human rights (Arendt in Goodale: 43). In the case of Occupy Cal, the students of Berkeley, outraged by the trends toward privatization championed by the UC Regents, opted to gather in front of Sproul Plaza and set up an encampment to symbolize the protesters’ resolve; the UCPD criminalized the students by designating the very existence of the encampment as an offense, and resorted to forcefully removing it. The development of this situation aligns the relationship between the police and protesters with Hannah Arendt’s model of human rights deprivation. In short, the most effective way for the protesters to publicly oppose the impending inequality in California public education was to break the rules imposed on them by campus authority. The one who abides by the rules allows for the inequality of a privatized UC system to become reality; on the other hand, the one arrested for disobeying authority’s orders turns the populace’s attention to the issues of suppressed free speech and educational equality. The latter individual is the more respectable one in terms of devotion to the propagation of coherent human rights (Arendt in Goodale: 43). Now, the potential problem for UC Berkeley students becomes apparent when one assumes that nothing comes of this exposé of students’ rightlessness. The Occupy Cal demonstration has averted the world’s attention to how swiftly and mindlessly a campus authority can silence peaceful protesters’ voices, whether or not they are breaking a “law” (i.e. whether or not they have established an encampment). If this trend for suppression of free speech continues, the average student, devoid of his most powerful right, finds himself substantially dehumanized and “no longer [belonging] to any community whatsoever” (Arendt in Goodale: 49). Where the UC Berkeley population diverges from Hannah Arendt’s model of rightlessness, however, is that in being stripped of community membership, a wholly new community of demoralized and silenced students is born. This new community to which the voiceless student belongs is one bearing no hope in the educational system to which it had previously subscribed. If the actions of brutality perpetrated by the UCPD on the night of the Occupy Cal protest in November 2011 are allowed to repeat in the future, the student population will be taken closer and closer to this state; in conclusion, then, the UC system has an obligation to ensure that the people it serves never again see their rights to peaceful speech, expression, or assembly so swiftly jeopardized and executed.
The very act of criminalizing students’ gathering on Sproul Plaza not only brings attention to the campus authorities’ inherent lack of regard for students’ rights, but also deleteriously instills in students’ minds an association of protest with punishment. The student learning that protest leads to police-induced physical pain is synonymous with the criminal learning to fear crime because of penalty, and thus results in many a student avoiding forms of assembled protest in the future—regardless of how noble the cause is (Foucault in Lawrence & Karim: 446). The swiftness with which evidence of the police brutality at Occupy Cal spread through the media is interesting in that it results in something of an inverted Panopticon. In contrast to Jeremy Bentham’s original design, this inversion allows “the many” to watch “the one”; the members of the annular structure are international users of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and cable television, while the central tower is occupied by student protesters who have been beaten by police. The rapidity with which these avenues of media allow the outside world to look in on the result of the Occupy Cal protest results in two trends occurring overnight: first, the viewers find themselves repulsed by the UCPD’s brutality, and second, the viewers find themselves discouraged from getting involved in the protest regardless of whether or not they agree with its cause. “A secret punishment is a punishment half wasted,” and with today’s media accessibility so inescapably expansive, it is certain that no action of the UCPD will ever again go without dually invoking both pain and fear in the third-party viewer’s heart (Foucault in Lawrence & Karim: 450). It is essential to recognize that the police brutality seen in Berkeley in November 2011, while a shot in the foot of the UCPD’s credibility, is also an example of how effectively discipline discourages “offense” when made public. This new fear of the UCPD must first be overcome if the Occupy Cal movement is to maintain the momentum it has gathered thus far, and continue bringing awareness to the privatization slowly engulfing the UC system.
The Occupy Cal protest has brought public attention to many frightening aspects of the campus authorities’ power, but simultaneously it has also done something much more grand and beautiful. It has reminded the students of one of the world’s greatest institutions that sheer unity in the face of injustice can inspire change; the astonishing numbers present on Sproul Plaza the week after the first protest speak for themselves. With grounded faith in his or her right to an education at this school, the UC Berkeley student has the ability to cast aside fear of the authority and wield a power greater than any policeman in riot gear; so long as the numbers united remain strong and steady, this campus will not forget who exactly they are meant to protect and serve.
- Alexander D. Prucha, UCB Class of 2014
• Arendt, Hannah. The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man. In Mark Goodale (ed.), Human Rights: An Anthropological Reader. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
• Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. In Bruce Lawrence & Aisha Karim (ed.), On Violence: A Reader. Duke University Press, 2007.