Tuesday, November 22, 2011

CHANGE: Lessons in Effective Protest

Lesson #1:
The remaining students, who far outnumber the contingent of police, slowly start to encircle the officers while chanting "Shame on you!" The chants get louder and more menacing as the crowd gets closer, herding the police into a defensive huddle. Officers raise their weapons toward the crowd, warning them to back off, but at this distance and in these numbers, their riot gear would offer them little protection should the crowd suddenly charge. Sensing their advantage, the students change their chant to the more defiant "Whose university? Our university!" Tensions rise. One twitchy trigger finger and anything could happen. Then a lone voice initiates the familiar call and response of the human mic: 
Voice: "Mic check!" 
Crowd: "Mic check!" 
Voice: "We are willing..." 
Crowd: "We are willing..." 
Voice: "To give you a brief moment..." 
Crowd: "To give you a brief moment..." 
Voice: "Of peace..." 
Crowd: "Of peace..." 
Voice: "In order to take your weapons..." 
Crowd: "In order to take your weapons..." 
Voice: "And your friends..." 
Crowd: "And your friends..." 
Voice: "And go." 
Crowd: "And go." 
Voice: "Please do not return..." 
Crowd: "Please do not return..." 
Voice: "We are giving you a moment of peace." 
Crowd: "We are giving you a moment of peace." 
The crowd then starts chanting "You can go! You can go!", and after a few moments the police turn their backs to the crowd and do exactly that, wisely taking advantage of the offered truce, and eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd. 
(h/t Mike Daisey)
Lesson #2:
UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi – the school official who OK’d the violent assault on students for peacefully protesting – was greeted by three city blocks of students on the way to her car, all of whom gave her the silent treatment. Click to watch. It’s an eerie yet powerful protest. 
A pretty remarkable thing just happened. A press conference, scheduled for 2:00pm between the UC Davis Chancellor and police on campus, did not end at 2:30. Instead, a mass of Occupy Davis students and sympathizers mobilized outside, demanding to have their voice heard. After some initial confusion, UC Chancellor Linda Katehi refused to leave the building, attempting to give the media the impression that the students were somehow holding her hostage. A group of highly organized students formed large gap for the chancellor to leave. They chanted “we are peaceful” and “just walk home,” but nothing changed for several hours. Eventually student representatives convinced the chancellor to leave after telling their fellow students to sit down and lock arms.
ME: Chancellor, do you still feel threatened by the students? 
One of the students pepper sprayed yesterday, a young man wearing a brown down coat over a tie-dye shirt, said he met with Kotehi and personally showed her a video of pepper spraying attack. Speaking to about a thousand students with the “human mic,” the young man said he personally asked for her resignation.
This protest, unlike the fuzzy, on-going protest at Occupy Wall Street, managed to throw its opposition to stark relief while still taking the high road. Part of it is luck - I don't know if you can plan for pepper spray. But from that moment forward, the students of UC Davis took the same approach my mother took in all her fights in life: calm, rational, straight to the point.