Monday, November 21, 2011

Today's Post Courtesy of Mark Borba

Today is my birthday.  Since it fell on a Monday, I did all my celebrating this weekend with a nice trip to Santa Cruz with my wife.  It was awesome, I ate too much (which I will gladly work my butt off to make up for this week) walked all over the city - something I've never been physically able to do before - and really had the best time.  It was one of those trips that ended way too soon and as much as I miss my house and my dogs, my mind is still looking out over the choppy ocean waves as those gray clouds came blowing in, threatening rain and making for an amazing, technicolor sunset.  So, suffice to say I was looking for an easy out on my blog post for the day, because I haven't fully checked in yet mentally and because I usually go out easy on Mondays (as if I don't do it the rest of the week too or something...)  Well, I was going through my email when I came across a message from my friend, mentor and favorite evil conservative corporate farmer, Mr. Mark Borba.  Mark was a freshman at UC Davis in 1969 and while he is one of the staunchest conservatives I know, I found his take on the recent incident at the campus to be intelligent, insightful and well-stated.

For anyone living in a media cave, the "incident" at UC Davis that I'm referring to is the pepper-spraying of peaceful Occupy demonstrators by campus police.  These students were conducting a "sit-in", protesting just by being in the way and sitting there.  They weren't attacking anyone, destroying any property or making any threats to do any of those things.  They were practicing non-violent resistance.  In response to this, campus police officers began casually pepper-spraying the students in the face at point blank range with those big, "riot-sized" cans of spray.  When student began to cover their eyes with clothing to prevent getting pepper spray blasted into their eyes and noses, the campus PD actually started forcing the mouths of the students open and spraying them in the mouths and throats.  As of today, there are still reports of students who were sprayed in this manner vomiting blood.  The outcry over this action by faculty and staff at UC Davis has been swift and overwhelming, with calls for criminal charges and a full investigation into the actions of the campus PD and the resignation of UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi.  Video of this brutal incident has received well over a million hits on youtube since this weekend.  Here it is.

In the video, you can see the officers "showing off" with their cans of spray before opening up on the unarmed and non-threatening students just sitting there.  Later, you can see several officers hold down students who weren't driven off by the point-blank spraying so they can open their mouths and spray them directly in the mouth and throat.  Later, some officers are seen smiling and laughing as they direct camera men around the fracas to get better shots.  This is a shameful display of the type of violent police overreaction that has plagued all of the Occupy protests lately and it's part of a larger effort to demonize the protesters by treating them like violent rioters before they ever do anything.

Now, for pretty much the entire life of the OWS movement, conservatives have come out strongly on the side opposed to these types of demonstrations.  There have been criticisms lodged by the right about these protests and the protesters - everything from claiming that "They don't even know what they're protesting!" to telling them to "get a job" and, of course, the completely over-exaggerated Fox News propaganda that all these protests are filled with drug use, public sex, rapes, murders, violence, lawlessness, disease, filth and public defecation at every turn.  Why do the police show up to these demonstrations in full riot gear when the protesters have not once rioted at a single Occupy protest?  Why is this the reaction of the police to OWS when Tea Party protesters showed up to their rallies with loaded guns and were met only by plain-uniformed cops and security officers?  Why the very deliberate move to treat OWS protesters as violent rebel rousers from the onset with no justification to do so?  Well, we know why, it's something that is familiar to anyone who was this age back during the Vietnam war protests.

Thus, we come back to the great email I received from Mr. Borba this morning.  Now that I've recapped the UC Davis story and given my very brief 2 cents on it, I would like to yield the remainder of my time to the distinguished gentleman from the central valley...

For those who know me, I think they’d agree that I’m a pretty conservative guy.  (Editor's note: "pretty conservative" is a huge understatement. ;) )  But, while I was a freshman@ UC Davis (1969-70), the college campus Vietnam war protests were just beginning.  That year the Kent State shooting and People’s Park incidents (riots?) scared my folks to death.  Dad called and told me the night of the Kent State killings, “Get your stuff packed in your car and come home.  Those damn hippies are crazy!”   After assuring him that UC Davis was NOT UC Berzerkley... he relented.  Davis was pretty calm during those ensuing years, with the majority of student unrest/demonstrations taking place at other universities.  There was a short term takeover of Mrak Hall, and classes were canceled to encourage discourse (and Pass/Fail grades for the quarter).  But, if you really wanted to engage, a bus ride to Berkeley was required.

Fast track now 40+ years later... and most people have a new perspective.  What the hell was I thinking back then?  Didn’t the students have it right?  Wasn’t the US’s involvement in Vietnam a disaster?  Didn’t we lose 58,000+ lives of young Americans... in a war that was internal/a Civil War... which, upon finally exiting, saw the North take over and result in what we see today, peace and (Who would have thunk it?) capitalist economic activity... and nothing like the outcome described by the war hawks and no B52’s overhead, pounding civilians into surrender!

I’m just saying that things aren’t always as they appear.  I wish I’d been more active... and thought more for myself, instead of just supporting the “authorities” against “those crazy hippies”. 

These UCD students are the voices of the future.  Perhaps we (oldsters) don’t agree with them, as my Dad didn’t agree with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) back then.  But, that is what open debate and differing opinions are all about.  In societies where differing viewpoints can’t be presented for discussion and frustrated demonstration is quashed... Civil War often results.  Is that preferable?  This Country is in a mess.  And, it’s our (oldster) generation that put us here.  These next gen students have a right, and yes a duty to speak up.  As I often tell them, “You’re the ones who are going to pay the bill.  You better engage!”

One last thing—Is there anyone who believes that the UCD cops were right?  What was the harm in the students sitting on the sidewalk in the Quad?  The cops  were not being physically threatened? Nobody is even heard threatening them?  What was the trigger (thought) that made the pepper spray seem like “the right thing to do”... and be used so cavalierly?  In hindsight, would we now approve/recommend that action? 

We often lament that our young people don’t engage in solving the Nation’s/World’s problems.  We say they don’t watch/read the news; they play video games and drink to an excess and probably don’t study as hard as they should (Oh, of course not as hard as we did, right?)... taking undue advantage of a very costly education.  Yet, when this opportunity to stand up and lead and voice an opinion/discuss solutions emerged, do we really think the proper response is pepper spray? 

I trust everyone has gotten a lesson from this incident.  It wasn’t on the level of the shootings at Kent State or riots of Berkeley’s People’s Park.  But, it is now a wide-spread symbol of what young activist voices can achieve... raising the sensibilities of old and young alike.  I for one support these students’ public outcry... and defense of the right to assemble and freedom of speech.  I can’t help but think, “How many lives might have been saved from the battlefields of Southeast Asia if I (and others who just observed) had stood up and spoken/debated... a clear vision back in 1969-70?”


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