by The Lizard Queen
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011 at 1:21 PM
There was a buzz amidst the students at University of California Riverside (UCR) when 2pm hit at the bell tower. "We are in solidarity with UC Davis and UC Berkeley so come join our discussion!" cried Jasmine, one of the facilitators, for this very first General Assembly (GA) meeting of the UCR occupation. The turnout was one of one hundred and fifty students, staff and faculty, including UCR Chancellor White and the surprise guest Chief of UCR police Mike Lane.
As the meeting began the process of Facilitation was especially explained for this initiating occasion. Along with this was the explanation of the peoples' mic and the reading of the Principles of Solidarity. The Agenda called for the first person on stack to come forward and speak, that person was Chancellor White. The safety of the students, faculty and staff was the main point of White's statement. At that moment a wave of fingers lined the crowd and an additional stacker was called upon. "Although I would like to answer your questions would you be willing to hear from Chief of Police for UCR first? Then we can both answer your questions." White stated to the crowd who at hearing of the Chief's presence collectively took in a tiny breath of surprise. "Can we take a temperature check on hearing them both." Spirit fingers went up with a hard block coming to the forefront. "Why was the chief of police invited to this educational discussion?" The fingers stopped their flutter and the facilitators asked the question "Does anyone else have questions about what was just said?" Instantly flew more fingers into the air wanting even more questions answered. So began the spontaneous two hour long question and answer session.
Questions came from all points of view due to the frustration that most of the students have with the current situation they are in regarding tuition hikes, budget cuts and the realization for a lot of them that the very people that were thought to be handling this situation are responsible for the actions taken place at UC Davis. "What role do riot gear and pepper spray play in supporting students' rights?" one student asked, Chancellor White thought for a moment and answered "In acts of nonviolence, protest, civil disobedience, they do not have a role to play." The question was restated by another concerned student and a definite answer by White was given "We will not use pepper spray." As the discussion continued it was made clear though that there will be an interference if things turn "violent" by either the group or any one individual, and regarding Homeland Security presence on campus as witnessed by one of the Riverside occupiers "Law enforcement communicates with each other when they need to." The casual answers to these tough questions made each person seemingly more passionate. "Do not invalidate these concerns!" someone yelled out.
It was then Chief of police Mike Lane's turn at speaking and the opening comment was the same of the chancellors, they were there to protect the health and safety. The first question by the crowd however didn't let the discussion waver "I know we have already asked the chancellor about what is considered violent but through personal experience I know that violence is defined differently by different people. What do you consider Violent?" The response was a general response of duty to protect the health and safety. As is the responsibility of the facilitator the clarification was made for the chief "so to clarify, you're not going to define violence?" Lane started again "I have prior personal experience with violence and believe that every situation is different and will do what I must to maintain safety in a given situation" the facilitator once again clarified "So you are reacting to us and we won't know we've crossed the line until we've crossed it?" The chief shuffled his feet and started once more "an open line of communication can be made with your leadership and our leadership…" The hands began to wave in front of faces not at the call of communication but at the insinuation of a leadership within the movement. "We are here everyday, we are the leadership, this is where you can communicate with us!" a voice spoke out. The crowd still unwavering didn't let the discussion go elsewhere "I have a definition a violence that you can either agree with or disagree with, violence is harming another person's physical body do you agree?" The chief finally agreed and the clarification came "so the chief is saying that destruction of property isn't violence, encampment isn't violence…" It was at this point the interjection was made and further clarification was given by the chief "I never said that destruction of property wasn't violent, I am here to ensure the safety of you and your personal belongings" Another voice rose from the crowed "so that then includes our tents our laptops from being smashed and the personal items within our encampment?" That was not something Lane could agree to.
As the afternoon wore on the momentum continued, not without the vital question of defining what exact health and safety concerns was the chancellor referring to throughout this discussion. "We do not want people in tents defecating and urinating on each other as has happened downtown or at other occupations." The crowd unanimously agreed to this compromise. Chancellor White and Chief Lane exited the conversation and the GA continued with the proposal and consensus on the next GA time of 12noon in front of the bell tower both Tues. 11/22 and Weds 11/23.