Occupy Cal

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Occupy Cal, November 15, 2011

Occupy Cal included a series of demonstrations that began on November 9, 2011, on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California. It was allied with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, San Francisco Bay Area Occupy groups such as Occupy Oakland, Occupy Berkeley, and Occupy San Francisco, and other public California universities. "Cal" in the name "Occupy Cal" is the nickname of the Berkeley campus and generally refers specifically to UC Berkeley.

A major theme of the Occupy Cal demonstrations is the role of education in creating jobs and improving quality of life for society as a whole[citation needed][opinion]. Tuition increases for students, mandatory furloughs for professors and staff, firings or forced realignment of lower-ranking workers as part of the "Operational Excellence" reorganization, and raises for the highest paid administrators have further fueled discontent.[1][2][3]

Occupy Cal continued to engage in organized meetings, events and actions through March 2012.[4]


Budget cuts, tuition increases, and unpaid furlough days affecting public California universities have been the target of protest by UC Berkeley students, faculty, and employees in recent years. The UC Regents has approved increased tuition fees nine times in seven years. In September 2009, several thousand students, faculty, and employees converged on Sproul Plaza to protest a proposed tuition increase of 32%. Simultaneous protests on University of California and California State University campuses occurred throughout the state.[5] The statewide campus protests did not sway the UC Regents, however, and the 32% tuition increase was approved in November 2009, setting off another round of protests that included the temporary occupation of campus buildings.[6] Protests continued through 2010 [7][8][9] and 2011[10][11] with Occupy Cal being the most recent iteration of a multi-year protest for affordable public education. UC Berkeley has a long history of student activism. Berkeley spearheaded the Free Speech Movement in 1964 and was a leader in the opposition to the Vietnam War throughout the 1960s.[12]


November 9 protest and police response[edit]

External video
Police response to Occupy Cal protesters on YouTube, Nov 9

On November 9, 2011, students and professors at UC Berkeley participated in a series of "teach-outs" around campus, a noon rally and march. Approximately 1,500 demonstrators attended the days' events.[13] The march route included a Bank of America location adjacent to campus. Not long after demonstrators set up seven tents in front of Upper Sproul Plaza in the mid-afternoon, law enforcement officials from UC Berkeley Police, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and other UC Police officers in riot gear arrived to remove the tents.[14][15] Protesters linked arms to form a human chain in front of the tents to prevent officers from dismantling the encampment. Police used 36-inch riot batons to "jab" and push back the protesters and to break the human chain.[13]

Video footage of the afternoon confrontation shows police using batons and dragging two protesters by the hair, one of whom was UC Berkeley English professor Celeste Langan.[16][17] 39 protesters, including Professor Langan, were arrested for charges including "resisting and delaying a police officer in the performance of their duties and failure to disperse when given a dispersal order."[18] Robert Hass, a UC Berkeley professor of poetry and former United States Poet Laureate, wrote about the police response in a November 19 New York Times opinion piece entitled "Poet-Bashing Police":

"the deputies in the cordon surged forward and, using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students. It was stunning to see. They swung hard into their chests and bellies. Particularly shocking to me — it must be a generational reaction — was that they assaulted both the young men and the young women with the same indiscriminate force. If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines."[19]

Hass himself was hit in the ribs by a police officer wielding a baton. His wife Brenda Hillman was shoved to the ground by a police officer.[19]


UC Berkeley Administration and Police[edit]

In response to questions about the officers' use of force, UC Police Captain Margo Bennett stated:

The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence.[20]

Robert Birgeneau, UC Berkeley Chancellor, George Breslauer, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, and Harry Le Grande, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs initially released a "Message to the Campus Community" in which they stated, "It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience." The administrators also stated, "We regret that, given the instruction to take down tents and prevent encampment, the police were forced to use their batons to enforce the policy. We regret all injuries, to protesters and police, that resulted from this effort. The campus's Police Review Board will ultimately determine whether police used excessive force under the circumstances."[21]

Following media criticism and statements of disapproval[quantify] from the university community and academic departments[22] Chancellor Birgeneau released a further "Message regarding events on campus" in which he stated, "I returned to Berkeley yesterday after a week-long trip to Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai where we successfully advanced some important new partnerships that will benefit our campus... While away, I remained in intermittent contact with Provost George Breslauer and other members of our leadership team and was kept informed, as much as possible, about the Occupy Cal activities on campus. However, it was only yesterday that I was able to look at a number of the videos that were made of the protests on November 9. These videos are very disturbing. The events of last Wednesday are unworthy of us as a university community." Birgeneau also stated, "we cannot condone any excessive use of force against any members of our community," and granted amnesty to students involved in the protests. Birgeneau's statement that he could not watch videos available on the internet while in Asia was widely met with cynicism from the university community.[17]

UC Faculty and Students[edit]

The ASUC, UC Berkeley's Student Government, was "outraged by the brutal tactics used by the UCPD against students."[23] With support from other student governments including UC Davis, Brown, and Harvard, the ASUC, UC Berkeley's student government, passed a resolution condemning the police brutality against students on the November 9 Day of Action.[citation needed] The ASUC has worked to raise awareness of issues such as police brutality highlighted by the Occupy incident. In a packed auditorium at International House, Berkeley's Academic Senate also considered a resolution, which would have expressed no confidence in Birgeneau and other senior campus administrators, but the resolution failed.[citation needed] While much of the energy of Occupy dissipated during the campus winter vacation, subsequent encampments have been set up as recently as mid-February 2012 outside the International House at the corner of Bancroft and Piedmont.[citation needed]

The Department of Integrative Biology stated, "We are deeply disturbed by the images of violence against members of the campus community, as well as the justification and defense of these acts that followed"[22] The School of Social Welfare issued an open letter to the campus community stating, "We are outraged and appalled by the violent silencing of UC Berkeley student voices."[24] 70 faculty of the School of Law condemned the police action and called for "a reestablishment of the campus's reputation as a beacon of free speech".[25] 2,363 faculty and staff stated "We express no confidence in the willingness of the Chancellor, and other leaders of the UC Berkeley administration, to respond appropriately to student protests, to secure student welfare, and to respect freedom of speech and assembly on the Berkeley campus."[26]

Other reactions[edit]

The ACLU made a statement saying they have "grave concerns" about the use of batons on protesters.[citation needed]

General Strike on November 15 and later events[edit]

Occupy Cal General Assembly at night

In response to the actions of police officers and other perceived failings of Chancellor Birgeneau and the UC Regents, the Occupy Cal voted to call for a general strike at UC Berkeley on November 15, 2011. The timing of the strike and protests was intended to coincide with a meeting of the UC Regents the next day, which was then cancelled by UC Regents and administrators from the UC Office of the President, citing "credible law enforcement intelligence". Many students and faculty did not attend classes and walked out, or incorporated teach-ins, or spent at least part of the day actively protesting. The UC Davis Faculty Association also voted to endorse the November 15 systemwide strike.[27] Events included a downtown march past Berkeley High School and Berkeley City College, speeches, and resolutions.[citation needed]

A small encampment was set up and allowed to exist for a day before being peacefully dismantled on November 17, with 2 voluntary arrests at 3:30 AM. Approximately 100 to 120 police in riot gear were used to dismantle the tents and make the arrests. Following that, tents were flown over Upper Sproul using balloons, including a banner claiming "Our Space".[citation needed]

On November 18, newspaper reports indicate that UC Davis police officers used pepper spray on protesters sitting peacefully on the ground.[28][29]

On December 11, the last day to-date of the visible presence of Occupy Cal on the Mario Savio steps of Sproul Hall, a UC Berkeley student who took a vow of silence as a means of non-violent protest, was arrested, apparently under Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gordon, Larry (9 November 2011). "UC to seek state funds to avoid tuition hike next year". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Barry Bergman (July 10, 2009). "Furloughs, pay cuts proposed for UC staff and faculty". UCBerkeleyNews. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  3. ^ Nanette Asimov (August 18, 2011). "Cash-strapped UC hands out millions in raises". SFGate.com. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Occupy Cal". Occupycal.net (Official website). Retrieved March 3, 2012.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ Wollan, Malia (25 September 2009). "California university cuts protested". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  6. ^ "Fee hikes bring student protests back to California universities". Christian Science Monitor. 10 December 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  7. ^ Josh Wolf (March 3, 2010). "Timeline: UC Berkeley fee increase protests". Oakland North. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  8. ^ Jesse McKinley (March 5, 2010). "Timeline: California students protest education cuts". The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  9. ^ Terry McSweeney (November 19, 2010). "Tuition hikes spark UC Berkeley protests". KGO-TV. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ Mihir Zaveri (March 4, 2011). "Protesters on ledge at UC Berkeley come down". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  11. ^ Nanette Asimov (September 23, 2011). "UC Berkeley students protest tuition hikes, cuts". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  12. ^ http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/CalHistory/60s.html
  13. ^ a b Hollyfield, Amy (10 November 2011). "Occupy Cal calm, but ready for showdown". KGO-TV. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Asimov, Nanette (11 November 2011). "Occupy Cal protesters vote to strike on Tuesday". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  15. ^ Asimov, Nanette (10 November 2011). "UC campus police move in on student protesters". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  16. ^ Gollan, Jennifer (11 November 2011). "UC Berkeley Pledges to Investigate Police Response to Occupy Cal Protest". The Bay Citizen. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Jennifer Gollan (November 14, 2011). "UC Berkeley Investigating Police Tactics". The Bay Citizen. Retrieved November 22, 2011. 
  18. ^ Bowe, Rebecca (10 November 2011). "Occupy Cal makes its dramatic entrance". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  19. ^ a b Hass, Robert (November 19, 2011). "Poet-Bashing Police". The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2011. 
  20. ^ Kane, Will (11 November 2011). "UC cops' use of batons on Occupy camp questioned". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  21. ^ Khan, Sara (10 November 2011). "Campus administrators send out message responding to Occupy Cal demonstrations". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  22. ^ a b Sarah Burns (November 14, 2011). "Integrative biology faculty, students condemn campus response to Occupy Cal". The Daily Californian. Retrieved November 22, 2011. 
  23. ^ Applegate, Jamie (13 November 2011). "Reactions to the police response to Occupy Cal on Nov. 9". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  24. ^ "An Open Letter To:The Office of the Chancellor, UC Berkeley, California Members of the National Association of Social Workers, Students, Faculty and Alumni of the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare". University of California, Berkeley. September 15, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  25. ^ Samad, Aaida. "UC Berkeley School of Law faculty condemn police actions at Occupy Cal". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  26. ^ "Open letter to Chancellor Birgeneau". originally on www.ipetitions.com and reposted by UCSD Faculty Association. 
  27. ^ Davis Faculty Association Endorses Occupy Cal’s Call for Strike
  28. ^ Kent, Julie (19 November 2011). "UC Davis Police Brutally Pepper Spray OWS Protesters Sitting Peacefully on Campus". The Cleveland Leader. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  29. ^ Pringle, Paul; Quinones, Sam (19 November 2011). "UC Davis chief launches probe into pepper-spraying of Occupy protesters". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  30. ^ Morris, J. D (11 December 2011). "Silent UC Berkeley protester detained". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 

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