News & Politics

OWS Continues to Dominate the Zeitgeist: Outcry over Abuse of Students at UC Davis Grows, Right-Wing Plan to Smear Protests Exposed

As footage of cops pepper-spraying UC Davis students gets more views by the minute, a plan to smear OWS is uncovered. Clearly, these protests aren't over yet.

In a few short hours, the video was popping up seemingly every few seconds on Twitter with horrified responses from those who shared it. As a group of students sat on the UC Davis quad Friday evening, arms linked, huddled across a roadway, a cop reached up, flourished a can of pepper spray, and provocatively sprayed it on their faces to horrified shouts from onlookers. Eventually, the students began collapsing, and they were dragged away, arrested.

Fast forward to the end of the video, when the remaining students chant "you can go" to the police officers. 

If protesters are continually met with brutality that horrifies onlookers and compels them to side with the protesters, well, then Occupy Wall Street isn't going anywhere. Just as the video was spreading across the internet, there was word of another breaking story--that of a lobbying firm cozy with the finance sector coming up with a plan of attack against OWS.

All this is proof that Zuccotti Park may be gone, but the momentum of the movement continues.

Here's howthe writers at Student Activism describe what happened at UC Davis:

One student witness says that police sprayed the thickest section of the line and that there were gaps in it at other points. That it was always, in other words, a symbolic rather than actual barrier. This video shows that two officers initially moved in to remove students from the line without violence, but were waved back by a superior so that he could spray them instead.

Students. Sitting down. With bowed heads. On university property. Police freely moving around them, pepper spraying them, facing no resistance whatsoever. Just students. Sitting on the ground.

Another widely-circulated description comes from assistant English professor Nathan Brown:

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

So far, everything except the spraying down students' throats is confirmed.

Several videos and photos of the incident are circulating far and wide. Here are two video views:

As with all viral videos this powerful, there is much excellent talking and writing already taking place. Lili Loofbourow writes that the end of the first video, when students convince the cops to leave, is the post powerful:

...the students announce to the officers that they are offering them “a moment of peace,” that is, the option of leaving without further escalating a truly horrible situation. They cry (in one of the most moving instances of the human mic I’ve ever seen) “You can go! You can go!”

It’s transcendently brilliant, this tactic–the students offer an alternative in a high-pressure situation, a situation that no one wants, but which seems inevitable in the heat of the moment. It’s an act of mercy which, like all acts of mercy, is entirely undeserved. Watch the other officers’ surprise at this turn in the students’ rhetoric, after they had (rightfully) been chanting “Shame on you!” Watch the officers seriously consider (and eventually accept) the students’ offer.

One protester interviewed by the student paper said that the brutality would change the nature of the protests.

“In a way it’s very abstract to be protesting about money or debt,” Koster said. “There’s really nothing like the moment when they find out that the university — and all these smiling ladies, who are supposed to be there to protect you — will protect the university from you, with pepper spray and guns. They will injure you and injure your friends.

“When you protect the things you believe in with your body, it changes you for good. It radicalizes you for good.”

Indeed, the student Koster was helping when interviewed for the paper, Dominic Gutierrez, had never protested before, but had only showed up after seeing video of UC Berkeley police shoving students with batons. 

A tense silent standoff between students and chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi on Saturday night has resulted in increased cries for her resignation. Watch the video of Katehi leaving a meeting and walking past silent, seated students.

As this development--and the UC system's treatment of student protesters in general-- drew more scrutiny, another OWS controversy was brewing in DC.

Because while the protesters want little to do with the political establishment, the political establishment is still scared. A lobbying firm with close ties to Republican House Speaker John Boehner was ready to go with a different kind of assault on OWS.

It was only a matter of time, wasn't it, before the moneyed political apparatus tried to take on the occupiers with "negative narratives" and smears (wasn't the New York Post already doing that?). Here's the scoop from the team at Chris Hayes' MSNBC show: about a prominent lobbying firm which is strongly tied to the financial industry and its "$850,000 plan to take on Occupy Wall Street and politicians who might express sympathy for the protests."

The staff obtained this memo:

”The proposal was written on the letterhead of the lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford and addressed to one of CLGC’s clients, the American Bankers Association. CLGC’s memo proposes that the ABA pay CLGC $850,000 to conduct “opposition research” on Occupy Wall Street in order to construct “negative narratives” about the protests and allied politicians. The memo also asserts that Democratic victories in 2012 would be detrimental for Wall Street and targets specific races in which it says Wall Street would benefit by electing Republicans instead.

According to the memo, if Democrats embrace OWS, “This would mean more than just short-term political discomfort for Wall Street. … It has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.”

Read the rest here.

So essentially they're saying that those crazy kids with no demands might actually have a long-lasting impact on our political life? And that despite sneering dismissal, people were actually scared? No wonder this firm was eager to bring on the oppo research.

The segment of Up With Chris Hayes that dicsusses this proposed "hit job" is embedded below. 


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Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at
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