Pepper-spray anger spurs call for student strike
Student organizers at UC Davis in California called a strike Monday, capitalizing on the national spotlight from a Nov. 18 pepper-spray incident and drawing hundreds of students from their classes on the eve of finals to picket a morning meeting of the university system's regents.
The Washington Post
DAVIS, Calif. — Over the past two months, the Occupy movement has spawned endless video footage of young protesters in tents in New York and Washington. But what may be its most galvanizing image emerged from an unlikely place: a University of California campus in California's Central Valley.
It was here, on Nov. 18, that students shot video of a campus police officer training a can of pepper spray on a row of seated protesters. The video went viral. Now this public university outside Sacramento is a focal point of the Occupy universe.
Student organizers at Davis called a strike Monday, capitalizing on the national spotlight and drawing hundreds of students from their classes on the eve of finals to picket a morning meeting of the university system's regents. Together with alumni and outside activists, they hoisted signs that read "No tuition hikes" and "Bring back the master plan," a reference to a 1960 document that made California's public universities a national model of access and affordability.
"You can tell there's a lot of outrage here," said Lauren Yamane, 30, a graduate student from Spokane, who stood among a throng of protesters outside the regents' meeting. "These students aren't usually the protesting type."
Police and protesters have clashed elsewhere in recent weeks, most notably in Oakland, Calif., as officers cleared away camps that officials say had grown more dangerous for public health and safety.
Nine people were arrested in Maine on Monday after protesters at an encampment took down their tents and packed their camping gear after being ordered to get a permit or move their shelters.
Some of the encampments had been in use almost since the movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan two months ago.
With each passing week, it seems a city moves to close a camp. Philadelphia officials imposed their own deadline for protesters to move to make way for a construction project. On Monday, however, the camp was still standing.
In Los Angeles, protesters had prepared for police action after city leaders announced last week that the camp would be cleared. Some protesters carried gas masks, and one person had even fashioned one out of duct tape and a plastic bottle. On Monday, they, too, were still encamped.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said he remains committed to a restrained approach, noting that the tent city has shrunk by about 150 tents in recent days and that police, so far, have managed to avoid aggressive confrontations with protesters.
Officers will clear the camp when they can "do it effectively and efficiently and with minimal force," he said. Time is on the department's side, he added.
Few expected many headlines out of Occupy UC Davis, an encampment of tents rising from the quad at the center of campus. But the pepper-spray incident transformed the campus into a symbol of resistance.
Now University Chancellor Linda Katehi faces critics who say she should resign. Leaders from across higher education have condemned the incident as a blatant civil-rights violation. Mark Yudof, president of the UC system, has ordered an independent investigation headed by William Bratton, a former Los Angeles police chief.
While Occupy protesters elsewhere have focused on rising disparities between rich and poor, the Davis students have two comparatively specific grievances: pepper spray and spiraling tuition.
Today's seniors pay $13,200 in annual tuition and fees, nearly twice what they paid as freshmen. Protesters contend the board plans to nearly double tuition again over the next four years. University leaders say they are working with legislators to minimize any increase.
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