The Birth of Occupy UC Davis

To say that a social movement grew “spontaneously” would beg the question: how does spontaneity happen? Occupy Wall Street (OWS) quickly captured the imagination of people across the United States and the world. What happened in Davis, California is a telling story, partly for how events built on events, and partly because of how the town’s Occupy Davis (OD) movement became aligned with a UC Davis Strike that morphed into Occupy UCD.

Many people, emerging from different parts of the community, brought Occupy Davis into being. At least in part, the emergence drew energy from longtime social and community activists who saw OWS as important and inspirational. The OWS movement began with the June 14, 2011 Adbusters call for an  demonstration to be held on September 17.

On October 1, a Davis activist forwarded an email from Adbusters to other Davis people. On October 3, another activist reported that a third person had visited OWS over the weekend of October 1-2, and invited a small circle of friends to a vegetarian chili potluck on Wednesday, October 3. At that meeting, the person who had visited OWS reported on his experiences and showed photographs. Already, an Occupy Sacramento was in the works, and people at the potluck brainstormed about occupying Davis, and set up an email list of those at the meeting who elected to stay in the loop. That same Wednesday, a UC Davis graduate student who had not attended the potluck emailed various students and faculty about OWS; that student turned out to become strongly involved in Occupy Davis as events unfolded. The point here is that these two lines of involvement were independent of one another, and that there must have been many more. In other words, people from very different venues became increasingly connected as OD gained networking momentum. By October 13, OD had established its own website, as well as an Occupy Davis email listserve. The night of October 15, people began staying overnight at OD’s site in Davis’s Central Park, where a Farmers’ Market is held each Wednesday and Saturday.

The email listserve quickly became a venue for discussions (no doubt taking place much more widely at OD itself) ranging from resolving basic logistical matters (tents, supplies, food, sign making, library) to noting times, agenda, and discussions of General Assembly meetings, to debating ideology, as well as strategies and tactics—particularly in relation to the issues of non-violence, reporting and organizing solidarity actions, carpooling efforts to participate in Occupy developments elsewhere (notably, Occupy Oakland, especially the November 2 action), and a variety of causes seeking endorsement or action from OD, from local issues to the wider movement to “fire your bank.” Special events have included a teach-in on austerity (October 25). OD participants also devoted energies to considering issues of security, including sexual harassment, outreach, and how to deal with outsiders (whom some OD participants thought might be provocateurs) who might seek to disrupt OD and with negotiations with City of Davis elected officials and administrative staff concerning issues ranging from safety to electricity to a heated debated concerning shared use of the park with the Farmers’ Market. On October 25, OD made its first announcement concerning a UC Davis event, the “Day of action in defense of public education,” which was to be held on October 27.

On October 12, the Council of University of California Faculty Associations sent an email announcing a petition of support: “The social movement known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is growing and raising issues of direct relevance to the faculty, students and staff of the University of California, including contracting opportunities and increasing debt loads for our students created by a system of privatized education and a refusal to provide high quality affordable public higher education.”

By November 10, various faculty at UC Davis were beginning to mobilize in support of the wider UC strike being called for November 15. OD participants, at their November 12 GA, began to consider coordinating with the UCD strike. By November 13, an organizer of the strike was asking an OD participant if OD would support the UCD action. On November 12, a group called the UC Davis Bicycle Barricade invoked the violence at UC Berkeley on the previous Wednesday, and asked OD to join the UCD strike. On Sunday, November 13, the OD Issues Forum concluded that OD should have one event shared with UCD Strike!, to begin on the UCD Quad and end in Davis’s Central Park, where they planned to make signs in anticipation of travelling to San Francisco the next day to protest at the UC Regents meeting (OD hoped, however, for a single Occupy encampment, as a more powerful statement than two separate locations, one in Central Park, the other on campus). Late Monday evening, OD received news about the clearing of OWS in NYC.

The Tuesday, November 15 Strike! rally at the UCD Quad was attended by  perhaps one thousand people. It was completely peaceful and there was no obvious police presence. Nathan Brown, an Assistant Professor of English, had a long speech of his read by a colleague. The crowd listened intently to this and other speeches, impressive in their engagement.

My colleagues and I plan further dispatches from UC Davis, where events are moving very rapidly, and in ways that have captured thoughtful national and international commentary concerning collective group process, and the process of collective decision-making and collective self-discipline. See, for example, The Nation and Reader Supported News.

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