Last November, we and our friends clutched each other in hope, as an orange blast exploded into pain. With the release of the Reynoso report, the world was told what we already knew: there was no legal basis for the suppression of Occupy UC Davis at all. The administration, with a harsh paternalism that demands absolute control, and a fear of resistance that demands silence and stillness, did not ask whether a law had been broken that November, but asked what laws could be used to halt our dissent. The events in November were a disgusting example of police misconduct, but there is no proper way to stop dissent.
As the images of Lieutenant Pike shot across the globe, it became belatedly clear to the administration that pepper spraying seated students was not a good way to defuse resistance. Instead, our movement has since then been continually monitored and spied on, continually threatened and intimidated with any laws and university bylaws the administration can think of. And now twelve people, half of them those same students who were pepper sprayed in November, are being charged with conspiracy and facing eleven years each in jail. They are accused of doing exactly the same thing as those students who were pepper sprayed: sitting in the wrong place. Further, one of those twelve was recently expelled and only reinstated after the backlash of an angry sit-in and the intercession of his lawyer. The frantic need to stop dissent drives this legal action no less than the physical repression in November. These charges are an abuse of the legal system and a waste of our county’s already limited resources, but there is no proper way to stop dissent.
We will not be intimidated. We are the students, staff, and faculty of a university paid for by public funds yet increasingly run to increase private profit. One in twenty U.S. residents over the age of sixty five is still burdened with student loan debt. One in twenty people has gone through their entire life up to retirement, giving a portion of their earnings to a bank in exchange for something that is supposed to be a state-provided service. Today, total student loan debt stands at over a trillion dollars—a sum larger than total consumer debt. Unless we can stop it, this debt is our future. Our wages will belong to the bank until the day we die. As the student debt bubble expands and our prospects for employment collapse as quickly as the banks are rescued with federal funds, the possibilities of our lives collapse toward an infinitely shrinking horizon.
Those who throw their own bodies before the workings of the private university and its repressive apparatus do so out of equal parts hope and desperation. We want a future where we can be free of the burden of debt, where we can be free of an endless cycle of payments and dependence where money flows from those who are in need to those who have plenty. We want a future where education is a public good, not a private commodity. We want a future where we escape as much from the coercive clutches of the banker as from the foul orange haze of pepper-spray and the devastation of the law.
In the aftermath of the April 3rd events in Santa Monica, justifying the pepper spraying of a massive crowd that included a four-year-old child, the President of Santa Monica College stated in the guilt-free tone so typical of college administrators that, “unfortunately, a number of bystanders…were affected.” The strategy of arresting demonstrators has been no less arbitrary and indiscriminate than the use of chemical agents and police force. In a culture of repression, what is important is that there is punishment; who is actually punished is secondary. The arbitrary charges against a few highlight our collective precarity. We are all on trial. The University has turned yet another weapon against those who oppose the agenda of privatization. We will define the limits of this weapon through the actions we take in response. If we turn away, it is only a matter of time before we ourselves will be cut down. If we stand and face them, if we make this attack unacceptable, then it will be unacceptable.