47.7 F

Davis, California

Monday, February 26, 2024

Column: Sit down

I feel insulted, I feel betrayed, I feel horrified and, quite frankly, I feel more unsafe on campus than I have ever felt. Yet, after being part of the protest outside the press conference Saturday, I feel impressed by the eloquence of my fellow students.

Like so many others, I’d assumed that violence toward protesters was something that only happened in New York or Oakland, not in Davis where there are more onlookers than demonstrators. If someone told me that our campus police would pepper spray and attack our students for expressing their right to free speech, I would not have believed them.

Though the actions of our chancellor and the UC Davis Police Department disappoint me, the united, eloquent and democratic response of students to the incident reaffirms my faith in the quality of this campus.

On Saturday, those of us outraged by the pepper spraying gathered outside Surge II to send a message to our chancellor. We stood to say that we have a right to our education, our opinions and, most importantly, to our safety.

To say the start of the protest was chaotic would be an understatement, but in all the noise and confusion, several students came forward to lead us. They all had ties to the pepper spray incident, one having been pepper sprayed herself, the other having watched his friends be attacked and arrested.

Their stories and pain were enough to move me to tears.

Wanting to ensure that anyone who wanted to hear or be heard could, we developed a democratic system of speaking and voting. After agreeing to keep the protest non-violent and respectful, someone suggested that we make a human pathway through which Chancellor Katehi could leave her press conference.

With a unanimous show of thumbs up, we approved the suggestion, wanting a chance to let our chancellor see our indignation and sadness. Without hesitation, the hundreds of us standing outside Surge II moved to make a channel. Linking arms with friends and strangers, I felt a sense of community and purpose greater than I’ve ever felt before.

Then the waiting game began as the chancellor refused to leave the building. Unfortunately for her, we were determined to be heard and willing to ignore the cold and the lure of a relaxing Saturday night to out-wait her.

After two hours, people dropped off dry Top Ramen for us, and another protester also arranged a collection for pizza money, and eventually we got enough food to feed everyone present. It was a blessing since, like me, a lot of protesters had not eaten in a long time, since no one had expected the press conference.

Those of us who had smartphones Facebooked, tweeted and streamed our stories out to the world, utilizing the only advantage we have as young tech savvy people. We were dumbfounded to hear that the story of our protest had reached CNN, Yahoo and Google. The press had come, we’d gone viral and our voice had finally been heard.

Despite the world watching, it took an interfaith minister, who was not previously involved with the protest, to get the chancellor to listen and finally begin to compromise with us.

We requested that she walk by us and look us in the eye, hoping for a semblance of accountability from her. She requested that we move to one side, sit down and allow her car to be driven to the street.

Eager to enter into the dialogue, we complied.

After three hours of waiting patiently in the cold, the few hundred of us present sat side-by-side, linking arms to show solidarity with the pepper sprayed protesters.

Our silence was louder than our chants had been, as a line of us, stretching from Surge II all the way to the Science Lecture hall, watched as Chancellor Katehi walked to her SUV and drove away safely.

We were respectful, we were peaceful and above all, we were successful.

It was an empowering and cathartic experience to be with others as hurt as I was. To me, the response of our students reaffirmed the incredible compassion and intelligence of this community.

So now, I call on all of you to stand for what you believe in. Or sit for it, you choose.

KATE ZARRELLA would like to hear what you would be willing to sit down for at kazarrella@ucdavis.edu.


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