I was especially struck by the observations of Kristin Stoneking, campus chaplain, who was asked to assist the chancellor, who reported being trapped by protesting students in an administrative building.
She reports that it soon became clear that the students had promised a peaceful exit, but administrators were were afraid to accept the offer.
In a post on her own blog, Stoneking comments on the eventual peaceful resolution, as students moved to the side and sat in silence as the Chancellor walked to her car.
What was clear to me was that once again, the students’ willingness to show restraint kept us from spiraling into a cycle of violence upon violence. There was no credible threat to the Chancellor, only a perceived one. The situation was not hostile. And what was also clear to me is that whether they admit it or not, the administrators that were inside the building are afraid. And exhausted. And human. And the suffering that has been inflicted is real. The pain present as the three of us watched the video of students being pepper sprayed was palpable. A society is only truly free when all persons take responsibility for their actions; it is only upon taking responsibility that healing can come.
Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car? Because I believe in the humanity of all persons. Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek. I am well aware that my actions were looked on with suspicion by some tonight, but I trust that those seeking a nonviolent solution will know that “just means lead to just ends” and my actions offered dignity not harm.
The Chancellor was not trapped in Surge II tonight, but, in a larger sense, we are all in danger of being trapped. We are trapped when we assent to a culture that for decades, and particularly since 9/11, has allowed law enforcement to have more and more power which has moved us into an era of hypercriminalization. We are trapped when we envision no path to reconciliation. And we are trapped when we forget our own power. The students at UC Davis are to be commended for resisting that entrapment, using their own power nonviolently. I pray that the Chancellor will remember her own considerable power in making change on our campus, and in seeking healing and reconciliation.
She seems to speak to our own community’s recent “investment” in excessive amounts of crowd control weaponry, driven apparently by unspecified fears among the supposed powerful and the extreme and unwarranted deference to “law enforcement” definitions of the situation.
It makes for an interesting challenge for us to meet as a community.