Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street

During the early 1970’s I attended law school at the University of California at Davis. The law school, named King Hall, after the then recently assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, attracted a fair number of students who were active participants in that tumultuous period in our history.

A group of my fellow law students and I organized an effort to blockade trains carrying munitions to the Port of Oakland for shipment to Vietnam. The campus and local police cleared the tracks, with a few arrests but no pepper spray or other such acts of violence. Then sitting California Governor Ronald Reagan told a newspaper that the activists in Davis were “bums.”


Hardly! We were law students exercising our first amendment rights.
We responded to the Governor’s mischaracterization of us by putting on suits (some of us had to borrow one – see photo below) and ties and headed to the Governor’s office in Sacramento.

We called for law students from all over the Bay Area to join us in a peaceful demonstration in Reagan’s office. Our fellow law students responded and we engaged in a “sit-in” and for hours read the United States Constitution aloud, over and over again.

Our hope was that we” bums” could teach the governor something about protest in a free society.

From his record as Governor and President I am not sure we taught the great communicator anything. But we did capture the attention of the media and people across the country, who applauded our efforts.

Now, forty years later, I watched in shock at the videos of the UC Davis police pepper spraying students who were peacefully sitting on the Quad in the middle of campus. The Quad at UC Davis is the primary gathering place for students. It is akin to Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park. On the Quad, card tables with literature promoting student organizations, and spontaneous political protests compete with Frisbees and undergraduate mating rituals for attention.

The vivid images from the campus of UC Davis galvanized my fellow alums. We flooded the Chancellor’s office with emails. We implored the Dean of the law school to take action and along with the law students and faculty to support the protesters rights and monitor the situation while creating a teaching moment.

Those of us who read the constitution to the governor that day years ago have spent long careers as lawyers, judges, businessmen and elected officials trying to make positive and lasting change in our society. Now the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the events at Davis have invigorated us again to remember that striving for equality and an open society never ceases.

As an aging Boomer, I am now re-engaged in part because of the peaceful protest at my alma mater, and the outrageous police reaction to that protest. The Occupy Wall Street movement gains traction in part as a consequence of the over reaction by police. Thanks to those excesses my own support for the inchoate goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement will no longer be passive. And, with less hair on my head and a ready supply of suits and ties, I can join the protesters without being called a bum.