Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Eyewitness Account of Wheeler Hall Events at UCB (Nov. 20)

Dear colleagues,

I was asked by some of you to do a quick write-up of my day as it
intersected with the Wheeler Hall situation today. Forgive the
lack of eloquence or coherence. It has been a very long and
exhausting day and yet I feel I must do this tonight.

I arrived at the barricades at 11:30 am after having seen the
various messages on FBF. Michael Cohen gave me a quick tour of the
situation and shortly thereafter I received a call (on a student
cell phone) from some of the students occupying Wheeler Hall. They
asked if faculty were willing to be mediators and I said yes, that
we were hoping for a peaceful resolution of the situation, and
asked what we could do as faculty. To that she responded that she
was going to email us their demands and that it would be useful for
us to forward this to top administrators. I asked her to send
these demands to Peter Glazer - she eventually did - and from that
point on Peter waged a valiant battle to contact George Breslauer
and other administrators so that lines of communication could be
established with the students in Wheeler Hall. This was a deeply
frustrating part of the day, as we huddled in the pouring rain,
trying to contact Breslauer and other administrators. None of them
seemed available. Our biggest concern was that without such lines
of communication this was going to be a police action and solely
that. The only administrator who did show up was Jonathan Poullard,
Dean of Students.

The crowds at the barricades were growing, getting more anxious,
and soon police reinforcements, including from the Alameda County
Sheriff's Department were being brought in and lined up in riot
gear. Faculty present at these barricades, some since early
morning, were brilliantly effective in avoiding a series of riots, police riots that is.

Each time there was a call to storm the building, they managed to
calm tempers. Note that by this time it was a deluge and the crowds
were cold, drenched, and impatient.

At some point - I don't remember what time it was - I heard that
there was going to be a press conference at UCPD. Along with
George Lakoff, I followed a group of ASUC senators to this press
conference, hoping to ask some tough questions. Earlier in the
day, I had already introduced myself to the UCPD chief of police,
expressed my concern about the situation, and stressed the
importance of a peaceful resolution. This time we found ourselves
in the basement of Sproul. Suddenly, some of the ASUC officers and
senators were allowed into the police offices: Will Smelko, Tu
Tran, Dani Haber, Noah Stern, Cynthia Nava, Christopher Franco,
Ariel Boone. They asked George Lakoff and me - the only faculty
there at that moment - to join them. We found ourselves in a
meeting with Vice Chancellor Harry Le Grande; Dean of Students,
Jonathan Poullard, and UCPD Police Chief, Mitch Celaya. The ASUC
senators were pushing hard and were also in touch with students in
Wheeler Hall. George Lakoff made the case for non-violence. We
ended up with a scenario where VC Le Grande and Police Chief Mitch
Celaya were going to go into Wheeler to officially receive the
demands of students and also present them with some options (a
peaceful exit if you will) with a faculty observer (myself) and a
student observer (ASUC senator Cynthia Nava). Maria Blanco arrived
at this point and a brief discussion ensued about whether there
were any AB 540 students up in Wheeler - we concluded from our
discussions with the students that there were not.

And so after some amount of discussion and preparation, Celaya,
Nava, Le Grand, and I walked past the police lines, into Wheeler
Hall. There was surprisingly little police presence in Wheeler Hall
compared to what was happening outside). We ended up on the 2nd
floor, in front of the barricaded door next to 200 Wheeler. I
later did a walkthrough of Wheeler with the police chief, and went
to all 4 sets of blockaded doors, to make sure that there wasn't a
police siege while we were trying to talk to students. Several
legal observers were also present at some of the doors. Cynthia
Nava was on the phone with the students but now they were worried
about any sort of meeting, especially one that included the police
chief. I should note that while this has been presented as
"negotiations," the idea was for the students to present their
demands to a high-ranking administrator and for them to be able to
ask the police chief questions about various scenarios through
which the occupation could be ended. The idea was that if students
did not like what they heard, they would then be able to continue
the occupation. We would simply leave.

For over an hour and a half we talked to the students who were
involved in the occupation, trying to establish the terms of this
meeting. Judith Butler was in conversation with them as well from
the barricades downstairs. After a while it was clear that the
students were afraid that such a meeting may become the excuse for
police arrests - despite all of the promises to the contrary. I
have to note that I was not surprised by their decision and felt
that it was important to respect it. The students inside were
aware of the growing police presence outside and of course it was
difficult for them to trust the promise of a safe meeting. As a
last-ditch effort, the police chief brought in a student
representative that some of the protestors had asked for - Marika
Goodrich - as well as Maria Blanco. But time was running out: we
had already been there for nearly two hours and had not managed to
meet with the students. It may be the case that Marika and Maria
felt that they were removed from the building. But I had gone into
the building knowing already that it was an unusual dispensation
and fully aware that the clock was ticking. I was not surprised
that at the two hour mark we were asked to leave. I left the
building with a heavy heart, worried about what was to follow.

When I came back out, some of the Wheeler students asked for me at
the window. Now several of them mentioned that they had wanted to
talk and even leave but felt that they had to abide by a majority
vote that had made the decision to stay. Both George Lakoff and
Judith Butler got on the bullhorn with them but it was soon evident
that the police were in the building. Dean of students, Jonathan
Poullard, advised that the students who had wanted to leave should
simply sit down as the police came in - when we communicated that
to the students they said that all of them were going to sit down.
We in turn asked the crowds at the barricades to show solidarity
with the students by also sitting down. This happened at the
Dwinelle side of the barricades.

A bit later Anne Wagner and other faculty suggested that some of us
head to California Hall. We rounded up as many faculty as we could
find and went to California Hall, which was locked. At first it
seemed hopeless. But we stood there, some of us pressing our
faculty IDs up against the glass door. And then a police officer
came out, asked us to sign our names, and explain our case. We did
so and a few minutes later she let us in. We found ourselves in a
meeting with Chancellor Birgeneau, EVCP Breslauer, Police Chief
Celaya, VC Le Grande, and Dean of Students, Jonathan Poullard.
Some of the ASUC folks were also there. The meeting had an urgency
to it - we were worried about the fate of the students who had
occupied Wheeler but also about students at the barricades. The
faculty emphasized their concerns about police violence and
mentioned several incidents. The solution for those occupying
Wheeler (they had already been arrested) was the following: that
they were to be cited for trespassing (misdemeanor) and then
released, without handcuffs, with faculty observors and student
observers present. No police vans, no Santa Rita jail, no
handcuffs. The faculty and students went out to disseminate the
message to those at the barricades, to calm things down, and
Shannon Steen, Will Smelko, and I went with police chief Celaya
back into Wheeler.

This time on the 2nd floor, the 30 or so students (some non- students, including an "embedded" reporter with Democracy Now) were seated, handcuffed. They were tired but in good spirits. In small groups they were cited, allowed to collect
their belongings, and then released. Will, Shannon, and I
accompanied police officers to escort each group out of the
building and past the barricades. We had already advised them to be
peaceful as they made their exit but we also urged them to
immediately seek legal counsel. They had many friends and
supporters waiting for them at the barricades.

I wish I had a more eloquent way of ending this report. I don't.
I am still making sense of it all.

Ananya Roy


Anonymous said...

Professor Roy,

Thank you so much for what you did on Friday. It truly means a lot of us (students) that you have time and time again stood by our side. You are an invaluable asset to this university together we are fighting to choose its fate. Thank you for reminding us that this situation is not immutable, but that we in fact can change the outcome.

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