Occupational Hazard

Campus Issues: The Wheeler occupation successfully garnered media attention, but the resulting images were an embarrassment.

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Early Friday morning, 40 activists (mostly UC Berkeley students) barricaded themselves inside the second floor of Wheeler Hall in a dramatic act of protest over the unprecedented 32 percent fee hike passed by the UC Board of Regents the day before.

As onlookers and supporters gathered around Wheeler, the national media took notice. Though the means were questionable, we're glad the occupation successfully drew widespread attention to the serious financial struggle the university and its students are now facing.

The success of the demonstration was entirely separate from, and possibly in spite of, the original goals of those who occupied Wheeler. The act itself, not the content behind it, brought about the type of attention that previous protests couldn't.

The overall success of the demonstration, albeit more or less accidental, covered up the reality on the ground: On all sides, there was disorganization and chaos.

Helmeted police were a constant presence on the campus the entire day. An astounding 185 officers from UCPD, Alameda County Sheriff's Office, Berkeley and Oakland police departments patrolled the scene at various times.

The over-deployment of officers is just one example of the incredible overreaction of the police force that day.

In the early morning, officers arrived at Wheeler in riot gear with helmets on, setting the entirely wrong tone for their interactions with demonstrators throughout the day. They were too defensive, and their conduct portrayed the police, and the campus, in a poor light.

No one was in danger and no property was threatened-the protestors occupied Wheeler to make a statement, not to destroy campus property. With few exceptions, there was no reason to hit the demonstrators with batons.

For these reasons, we support the Chancellor's call for an investigation into the conduct of the police during the occupation.

By using an unnecessary level of force, the police gave more energy to the demonstration. The needlessly high number of officers probably attracted more onlookers to the spectacle. Scuffles with students infuriated the protestors further and gave them more cause to band together against a common enemy.

The unnecessary aggression on the part of the police was matched by protestors, who let out their frustrations on the officers patrolling the scene, rather than those who have truly led us into this crisis.

The misdirected anger of protestors also affected their interactions with fellow students and professors throughout the day. Meaningless disruptions like the ringing of fire alarms in major campus buildings did not help the protestors' cause at all, and could have posed a health and safety risk to the community.

Forming blockades and demonstrating hostility to other students similarly did nothing but hurt those with whom protestors ought to be uniting. Odds are, most of the 3,800 students who were unable to attend their classes did not protest, but rather left campus with bitter feelings toward demonstrators.

This collateral damage could further alienate students who were on the fence about prior demonstrations, and lead others to question their earlier support.

Despite the successful grab for media attention, we hope that the demonstrators learn a lesson from the organizers of the walkout and last week's strike. They can't just do the same thing in the future, and expect the same turnout-the shock value is lost.

Instead, now that they've made their statement, they ought to reach out to the rest of the campus and, eventually, the university. If 40 people doing something crazy can attract that much attention, think of what a united campus could do.

Chancellor Birgeneau is right: Administrators, faculty, staff and students need to work together to solve this crisis. But for any of this to become a reality, the Chancellor must actually reach out and initiate this collaboration if he wants to avoid being cast as the enemy.

Only when the campus is united will this reform effort be successful. In the future, we must channel our anger toward more constructive ends.

Tags: FEE INCREASES, NOVEMBER STRIKE, UC BOARD OF REGENTS






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