Occupational Hazard

“Oh my God!”

I’m trying to study for the Physics GRE, but my housemates are watching something on Youtube.

“Oh my God! Jesus, she was just standing there!”

As the tenor of their gasps grows more disgusted than amazed, I am compelled to turn around and see what they’re watching. It’s a video from the Occupy Cal march earlier in the day, featuring a brutal and clearly unnecessary beating of a apparently nonviolent crowd of people by police in riot gear. My eyes start to itch in disbelief. Is this the United States? Something is not right.

In the words of Stephen Colbert: If the Occupy Cal Movement had nothing concrete to protest before…well, now, they sure as hell do.

…………………………………………….

I’m sitting in the reading room in the Physics building, half doing my homework and half watching two fools bemusedly trying to solve a nonlinear equation analytically on the blackboard. All of a sudden I notice a noise in the background, one that wasn’t quite there before. It’s a helicopter, or maybe two or more, outside of the window. the sound gets louder, fades away, and then gets louder again, with Keplerian periodicity. It’s circling.

At once the cellphones of both of the fools at the blackboard buzz simultaneously. A text from the Berkeley Police Department. Someone has been shot in the Haas School of Business. My stomach drops to the floor.

“Whoa,” says one of the fools. “that’s crazy. Wasn’t someone shot in Oakland last week? was it to do with the protest?” As it turns out, it was an isolated incident. A man was spotted with a gun in the computer lab, and when the police arrived and surrounded him, he pulled it out and threatened, before a room full of students. He was nonfatally shot by the police, and is somewhere in urgent care in Oakland.

“Occupy your mind, occupy your class, occupy Math,” the other fool says, “that’s what I think.” And with that, they turn back to the equation.

I’m left sitting, staring blankly down at my own system of differential equations, staving off a vague and incomprensible sort of fear, and saddened by so much randomness.

Something is not right.

……………………………………………………..

I’ve never found it in me to participate in protests. Mob mentality, to me, is at a level of valence I simply cannot handle. But somehow, after the surge of violence that has occurred in Berekely over the past few days, I feel the need to attend the Occupy Cal general Assembly, if only in some vague hope of understanding what the hell is going on. At first I can’t believe I’m sitting on my butt on the cold cement in Sproul Plaza, surrounded by what I precieve to be kooks and Sociology Majors, as per usual. But, on closer inspection: there’s something different here. First of all, it’s enormous: there are quite easily a thousand people. But really, what is most remarkable is that this time, all around me I see people I admire, people whose opinions I, well, would make the time to listen to. My housemates. My Physics classmates. Graduate students who taught me how to program in MatLab or determine earth structure from seismic wave speed. One of my professors.

As expected there’s a lot of talk, specifically, a lot of emotionally charged words meant to tickle the revolutionary within. the assembly utilizes a ‘human microphone,’ a technique in which the crowd repeats everything the speaker says so as to carry the message as far into the crowd as possible. I cannot bring myself to repeat things I do not completely agree with, and am thus, silent.

We break off into small groups to introduce ourselves. A woman asserts herself as the discussion leader, citing the fact that she has been to several General Assembly meetings, was there when the cops brought out the batons, and on top of that has not slept in the last several days. She talks loudly and uses some profanity. We discuss a good-natured though ill-defined and improbable proposal (to invite the Chancellor, the Regents and Jerry Brown to a public debate on Sproul Plaza). I abstain from voting as per the nebulous nature of the proposal. But its heart is in the right place. Dialogue, civil dialogue is what we need.

I leave as tents go up in the plaza, and Mario Savio’s name is practically deified. I assume they’ll be out there all night. I can hear the helicopters from my room.

People are discontented. Something is not right.

……………………………………..

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