Sunday, May 13, 2012

Story A Day - 13

I started this StoryADayMay one day ahead of things, but fell behind last weekend by missing Saturday, making me just on track. Now I've missed another Saturday, so today's story is an actual break in the chain of daily pieces. Alas.

Today was the last day of the 43rd Whole Earth Festival, held annually in Davis, CA since it started as an art class project in 1969. I've been involved off and on, in and out, since 1996 and am continually amazed by the power generated by conducting work in an environment of play. I dedicate today's story to this year's staff and all those before them.

Prompt from Thinking Ten: Sunday Times, open today's paper and write for ten minutes about the first thing that comes to mind.

Today, a dozen people protested in Moscow. They risked a lot more than lawsuits. If you're unfamiliar with what's been happening to protesters of Putin's government, just spend some time on Google.

Here's today's article on the protest: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/14/world/europe/russian-writers-demonstrate-the-might-of-a-march.html?_r=1&hp

Story:

So a gang of miscreants known as The Davis Dozen have done something awful. They really should have known better, you know. It isn't everyday that a bank takes interest in furthering education for the masses. Or maybe it is, I really don't keep up with these things the way I should. The story as I've heard it is that twelve people, 11 students and one professor, have been named in a lawsuit brought by the California Attorney General's office (I may have that wrong, but somebody with an official title is on the warpath against this egg carton of troublemakers who really should have known better.

I mean, c'mon people, let's get with the program. You know what they do to kids who sit down and refuse to move in Davis, California. November 18th, anyone? Ring a bell? Two words, rhymes with Leper Fray.

Yes, that is the point. Always was. But that doesn't make the lawsuit any more sensible. So since the Lt. Pike debacle, the university got gun shy (pun intended, very much) about calling out their police units to do anything about peaceful civil disobedience. Instead, they provided verbal and written warnings to a group of people who were blockading access (ingress and egress) at a bank location inside the Memorial Union, a public facility on the university campus.

And despite those verbal and written warnings, in which the consequences of their protest action were repeatedly made clear to them, the Davis Dozen kept on keeping on.

Why?

If you ask me, it's because they saw, in US Bank's occupation of a former meeting space, not a boon for the student community, but a lock on its access to the very principles of education. Free exploration, study, and expression of ideas cannot prosper in an environment with corporate labels blocking up the landscape. When your Student Identification card comes complete with the logo of a major bank, and you are encouraged to open an account with that bank when you arrive, and you see that bank has a presence front and center in the primary student union building on campus, where almost every student is guaranteed to spend at least a few hours each week...

Well, it's rather similar to how AT&T and Verizon wanted to shut down the Internet except to sites and providers who were willing to pony up for access. Sure, we are technically using "their cables". But when access to the buying (or surfing) public only goes to the highest bidders, or, in the case of US Bank, the solitary winning bidder, then what kind of access are we really talking about?

The Davis Dozen is on trial for protesting US Bank's occupation of the former East Conference Room (an affordable meeting space that had been used by student clubs for inductions, awards events, dinners, and outreach activities). They did so because putting public space in the hands of private dollars, on a university campus, doesn't help the university's mission of educating the state's youth and those who come to California because of the reputation this state has as being among the best for post-secondary and post-doctoral study.

Learn. Discover. Engage. That's the UC Davis mission statement.

The Davis Dozen learned in their classes and in their life experience that peaceful protest and refusal to accept harmful situations is a practiced and powerful method of encouraging positive change. They discovered that it is better and nobler to bear the slings and arrows of ridicule and prosecution than to sit idly by and allow the powerful UC leaders to continue advancing their agendas without input from the students, staff, and faculty whom they serve. The Davis Dozen engaged, and methinks they would have done Jean Luc Picard proud (had to, I'm a sci-fi geek).

Now the Davis Dozen are facing a serious threat to their futures. Jail time. Up to a US$1M in fines. US Bank broke their contract, citing an inability to operate in the conditions present at the Memorial Union location. The UC and US Bank both tossed "breach of contract" lawsuits at each other.

Ultimately, it isn't a question of who broke a promise between the UC and US Bank. It's a question of when the UC decided it was okay to stop making promises to students and start promising things to corporations instead.




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