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November 21, 2011

Occupy Davis: The Walk of Shame

I would venture to say that the UC Davis student’s “walk of shame” action following Chancellor Katehi’s departure from the press conference at the school on Saturday night was so remarkable, we might never see the likes of it again.

I’ll explain:

In our social media-dominated culture, the instinct to record has overwhelmed the instinct to see, and the instinct to document (or electronically bear witness) has clearly overwhelmed the instinct to emotionally bear witness.

(click for full size)

Even at the moment where Officer Pike assaulted UC Davis students with pepper spray, a scene many of us are still reeling from, it’s hard to imagine students wouldn’t just stand there in horror and viscerally experience this assault on their fellow students. Looking at the photo, however, we can see that of the approximately 18 students witnessing the attack, roughly thirteen are, instead, preoccupied by the act of taking a picture. If we are, in fact, looking for some kind of emotional orientation and grounding from an eye-witness, we’re fortunate (personally, I’m relieved) to see the woman, dead center, holding some kind of electronic device who simply continues to clutch it as she takes in what’s happening in stunned, “unmediated” silence.

Compare that scene, however, to the photo above from UC’s California Aggie by Jasna Hodzic of the students waiting for the Chancellor. Of course, the students were determined to confront the administrator in terms that contradicted the exercise of anger or force. At the same time, however, I sure it was not lost on anyone how much they were part of a spectacle as emotionally charged as what happened  on the quad. In this case, however (and I think I the faces of these young women, particularly those in the lower right of the frame, will be in my mind for some time), the moral imperative and the intensity to connect with the authority, conscience-to-conscience, was so great, there is hardly a recording device to be seen.

The other day, I opined that we needed 48 hours to tell if Bloomberg’s evacuation of Zuccotti would pay off. The event at Davis offers a powerful reply. If there has been a strong moral and collective dimension to the Occupy movement from the beginning, it only continues to grow stronger.  The behavior we see in the “sit down” above is truly extraordinary. That kind of focus and intent cannot be meditated, it can only be inspired. And, compared to the hollow rituals and contrived gestures and the corresponding visuals of the measured goings-on at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, these students create such an electric high water mark, it’s stunning to sense how much our politics can come alive.

Story and more photos here at The California Aggie. Walk of Shame video here. (There are a number of versions. This one captures the students better than some of the others.)

(photo: Jasna Hodzic/California Aggie)

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