An Open Letter to the UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy White:
On Thursday, January 19 I spent a good part of the afternoon as a member of the crowd protesting outside the UC Regents meeting. I stood with students I’d taught, students I knew from their work with campus organizations, and students I’ve seen at other demonstrations. I stood with faculty, staff, Occupy activists from the region, and students from other campuses.
I stood right behind a barricade formed from placards painted after the cover of books used in our classrooms. This book-barricade was both a visual intervention (asserting knowledge as our choice of defense) and something that helped us to maintain our shape as a crowd.
In the two hours I was behind that barricade, we didn’t move forward or back. We just stood there, chanting, talking, expressing our anger. The crowd got bigger and louder, but its peaceful character didn’t change. The crowd successfully used Occupy Movement practices to control itself. Nevertheless, toward the end of the Regent’s meeting, a UCPD officer declared through a bullhorn that our gathering was "an unlawful assembly."
The crowd chanted, "Tell us why! Tell us why! Tell us why!" It was an honest request.
No one on the other side made even the slightest gesture to respond to our question. And no administrator made even the slightest gesture towards negotiating with us. To do so would have been to admit that the UC Regents were trapped inside the building. To do so would have been to admit that the University of California Regents had grossly underestimated UC Riverside when it chose the campus for its meeting.
Our campus is "docile" by some standards. We don’t have Berkeley or UCLA’s history of activism. A lot of our students commute, which means that our campus environment is less condensed, less volatile.
UC Riverside is an open campus – perhaps the most open in the University of California system. Parking is relatively cheap and easy. Our students are so diverse it’s hard to imagine what person would think, "this campus doesn’t represent me." If Berkeley and UCLA are often the sites of large protests it is partly because those campuses represent the system – participating in an action there has a unique symbolic function as those campuses are "flagship" campuses.
Our campus represents something else. Our campus is rich with transfers from the community college system, rich with returning students, veterans, parents, kids who are the first in their families to graduate from college. Dreamers.
In the University of California system, our campus has one of the most organic relationships with its region. This makes for good press, but it also means that of the UC campuses we are the most reliant on state funds. We are the most vulnerable, our life as a public university feels quite precarious.
On some level, the people planning this meeting banked on that precarity. They banked on the notion that our students are too busy working to pay their tuition (and/or their parents’ mortgages) to get involved with a protest.