UC Davis Students Are Role Models
Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
t would have been easy for students at UC Davis to riot after watching their classmates being assaulted with pepper spray. Instead, they remained nonviolent. That simple act gave them the moral high ground. And that's how social change movements grow.
Rewind a couple of weeks.
Occupy Oakland was in a similar situation. Police had violently cracked down on their encampment. Iraq War veteran Scott Olson almost died. They had the momentum, which led to a successful general strike that closed the Port of Oakland. As night fell on the day of that general strike, some of the protesters became violent. That violence turned public opinion, and slowed their momentum.
It reminds me of a 1988 demonstration at the Pentagon. We had a thousand people committed to nonviolent civil disobedience. We attempted to shut down the south parking lot. We went through nonviolence training prior to the action, and this was key to our success. Affinity groups were all on the same page. The action remained nonviolent and, in the words of Daniel Ellsberg, "Pentagon employees had to step over us to get to work." All went well until a small group decided to start lighting fires - some of them under transit buses. All of that hard work to keep the protest from turning violent quite literally "went up in smoke."
Problems like this have always plagued the progressive movement. The authorities know if they provoke the right groups they will become violent and public opinion will turn against whatever movement they are targeting. Those who keep wondering why the police fan the flames of the Occupy movement will learn the answer to their question if the Occupy movement responds to these provocations with violence.
The Occupy movement must strictly adhere to its guidelines of nonviolence, and publicly distance itself from acts of violence. As tempting as it may be to fight back when you are under attack, all that does is alienate future supporters.
Back to UC Davis.
Yesterday, thousands turned out on campus for a nonviolent rally, one that included an apology from Chancellor Katehi.
If the students reacted violently to the pepper spray, yesterday's rally would have been much smaller and much less effective. It was the nonviolent response that made people who usually don't attend protests, but are sympathetic to the cause, feel safe enough to attend and to stay.
While there is a time and a place for more militant actions like the blockade of the Pentagon, only the hardcore attend these events. If any movement is to grow and flourish, newcomers need to feel safe. One of the pepper-sprayed protesters put it best, "Do not choose the path of violence. Their only weapon is violence. We will prevail."
The authorities will continue to use violence in the hope that they can inspire a violent reaction from us. They know that scenes like the violence in Oakland after the general strike will kill the momentum of the movement.
Let us learn from Oakland, and follow the example set by Occupy Davis. Right now Oakland is struggling to maintain a camp, while Occupy Davis is back, bigger and stronger than ever.
Scott Galindez is the Political Director of Reader Supported News, and the co-founder of Truthout.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.