If you are looking for something to be thankful for today, this video of the pepper spraying at UC Davis may be a surprisingly good place to start.
The event has received a lot of attention as an example of police over-reaction. The spraying of peacefully seated undergrads directly in the face is indeed shocking. Many have made the natural comparison to the fire hoses at Birmingham. The comparison is apt in more ways than one. Like Birmingham, the true story is not the excess of the police, but the courage of the protestors.
Watch this 8 minute video of the event. Too many of the shorter clips featured in major media just show the spraying and edit out what happened afterward. Watch the aftermath to get a sense of the sort of moral formation the Occupy movement is fostering. There is something truly, astoundingly, good at work here.
The students seated to block the police accept the pepper spray with resolute calm.
The crowd of protesters’ response is simply amazing. The entire crowd displays profound nonviolent discipline. This could have easily turned ugly. Instead they use chants and mic checks to confront the aggression. Dwell on this for a minute. A crowd of 18-21 year olds is confronted by undisciplined and provocative police. Their friends suffer grievous pain. They respond, not with anger and escalation, but with forceful, nonviolent engagement.
Chants of “Shame on you” and “Whose university? Our University!” seque into a mic check announcent (when one person speaks and the crowd repeats the message).
“We are willing to give you a brief moment of peace so that you may take your weapons and our friends (the pepper sprayed, arrested students) and go. Please do not return. We are giving a moment of peace. You can go. We will not follow.
Then a chant: “You can go! You can go!” as the police close ranks and depart.
The endless sniping that OWS must embrace a specific set of demands, or political party are so terribly misconceived. A generation is being formed in nonviolence and democratic organizing. There is something profoundly good at work here.