The National Catholic Review

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.




Amy Ho-Ohn | 11/27/2011 - 1:13pm
That was an extremely interesting analysis from Megan McArdle, thank you Brett. And it certainly has the ring of truth. Orwell's description of the tribulations of life in the lower-upper-middle class has a little bit in common with the difficulties of characters like Eugene Onegin and Dmitri Karamazov in Russian literature. The biggest problem with being educated for a time, place and way of life that abruptly vanishes, leaving you with nothing but debt and outsized pretensions (whether Victorian prosperity, emancipation of serfs or a housing bubble) is that everybody else finds your predicament so damn amusing.

Student loans should be specifically targeted at education that will make it possible to repay them: science, engineering, technology, also HVAC, plumbing and Linux system administration. But taking out a gigantic loan to get a degree in philosophy, theology or literature is a terrible mistake and people should be prevented from doing it.

Parents should tell their children that you can be anything you want to be, dear, but you can't be everything you want to be. If you want to be rich, you have to (as Megan McArdle says) while away your youth working endless hours at boring, tedious, trivial tasks for people who throw staplers at you. If you want to be a world-famous expert on Boethius, get used to sleeping in parks, because you'll never be able to afford rent in NYC.
Stanley Kopacz | 11/28/2011 - 10:54am

In Deutschland, everyone is trained, whether physicist, archeologist or vocational person.  If someone puts a roof on your house, you can rest assured your roof was put on by an expert.  A man may run a computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining workstation, but he starts out by filing a piece of metal to shape by hand.  I'm more for improved training for plumbers than for buying into another false rivalry as the neoliberals woukd have us.  Might make for fewer leaky rooves.  Also, get the money from the high finance crooks, not the plumbers.
Stanley Kopacz | 11/28/2011 - 10:39am
I graduated from a Jesuit colllege in 1970 with a B.S. in physics.  One of my physics major co-masochists said "the Jesuits ruined my life".  He was talking about all the philosophy and religion courses which meant we would always be putting life and career in the context of greater things, a further complication.  What a pain.  Thanks, Jesuits.  Also, my parents were able to pay my college education and, in 1970, working as a co-op and later full time, I could immediately pay them back.  Adjusted for inflation, I paid about $10K a year in FY 2011 dollars at a private Catholic Colege..  This is much less than today's tuition.  Why the uberinflation and why should today's students bear such a great burden?  Sorry, things are different now and they don't seem fair to the students.
Crystal Watson | 11/28/2011 - 3:57am
 I worked my way through college for a BA in art and philosophy and a masters in history.  It wasn't until I thought I should do something practical and chose to fo to law school that I had to take out a loan, and as I wrote above, things went wrong.  The good news is that what I learned about art and philsophy and history informs my life every day and that can't be taken away.  College should be more than vocational.
Vince Killoran | 11/27/2011 - 7:50pm
"One billion Chinese and one billion Indians have read Plato's Dialogues and Aristotle's Metaphysics and not found them particulary worthwhile."

Boy, I'd love to see the citation backing up that fact! In any case, I don't find China or India to be model societies.

We are in serious trouble if we reduce higher education to technical training. Our scientists should be taking more history and philosophy courses.
ed gleason | 11/27/2011 - 6:41pm
Look at OWS websites and you see no mention of student loans. This 'student loan' BS is a diversion tactic by those who never mention the trillion dollar cost of defense, homeland security etc. Europe has none of this expense compared to us..   When we walked/marched with San Francisco OWS most were in their 40s and 50s and oldsters
Amy Ho-Ohn | 11/27/2011 - 6:34pm
I am not contemptuous of those who study liberal and fine arts. But people who do it should be aware that incurring debt to get a degree in philosophy is essentially the same thing as incurring debt to take a vacation in the Bahamas. It's great, if you can afford it. It can be a terrible mistake, if you can't.

In a global economy, liberal arts are worth a lot less than they once were. One billion Chinese and one billion Indians have read Plato's Dialogues and Aristotle's Metaphysics and not found them particulary worthwhile. I myself am surprised by this outcome, but it is a fact.
Vince Killoran | 11/27/2011 - 5:20pm
Thank you David for providing this important data-it fits my experience teaching at universities and colleges in the last twenty-five years.

Amy's comment drips with contempt for those who don't pursue degrees that result in fat paychecks but I agree that, in addition to making higher education more affordable, we should target specific areas of need.  I happen to think that medical school should be free-that way we can usher in a single-payer plan more easily and take away specialists' "need" to make $400-600k/p.a.

As a tax payer I don't mind someone getting a degree in philosophy (many get double majors and minors in languages, education, etc.).  Instead of more money for science & engineering degree-seekers, how about support for degrees that help us achieve a clean environment & economic justice? 
David Cruz-Uribe | 11/27/2011 - 3:54pm
One problem with describing student loan debt as elitist is that it is not:  the vast majority of loans are held by middle class and working class students.  Here are two statistics that should make this clear.  At Trinity College in CT (where I teach), the bill for tuition, room and board is 54,000 per year.  The average student loan debt is about $13,400 on graduation; less after inflation, than I borrowed in the early 1980's to pay for my education.  By contrast, down the road is Central Connecticut State, a second tier state school whose annual cost is about $13,500.    Students at Central, however, borrow on average about $17,300 while in school.  The demographics of the student body are skewed accordingly:  Trinity is primarily rich or upper middle class; Central is lower middle class and working class. 

So the students with student loans are not elitists studying "political correctness":  lots of them are working class kids trying to earn degrees in very practical subjects so they can get jobs.  The problem is,  tuition keeps going up while wages remain stagnant and unemployment remains high.  So they go into debt, learn useful skills, and then can't do anything with them.
Stanley Kopacz | 11/27/2011 - 9:02am
The criticisms of the ows movement above are ad hominem and irrelevant.
Vince Killoran | 11/27/2011 - 12:18am
Brett is way, way off base on this.  In fact, many unions that represent these occupations he list are in sympathy-and some are in coalition-with the Occupy Movement.

Whose generation is it anyways?!
Stanley Kopacz | 11/25/2011 - 2:43pm
Theses kids are working' eh?  Anyone who wants a job can get a job?  Neoliberal Rubbish.  The work has bern moved offshore in vast quantities.  The working class has been gutted along with the unions. Free trade has worked and continues to work its magic thanks to an unbroken line of republicrats from Reagan to Obama.  Crush Big, that's the ows goal and if more people can figure out who the bad guys are, ows will grow.
Tom Maher | 11/25/2011 - 11:38am
Robert Nunz (# 12)

So you don't believe that six European nations are currently experiencing severe governenment financing problems where without outside help these counties would be all be bankrupt?  Or do you think that limitations on how much a nation can barrow only applies to Europe?  Are you one of those people who believe it can't happened here in the United States?  The spreading debt crisis can only happen to foreiegn nations?   

I would love to know what explaination you have for the European debt crisis. So far six European governements have fallen under the weight of drastic austerity measures required if these bankrupt nations  are to recieve the bailout payments they need from the IMF and other countries.   And one of the austerity measures amount many is always to raise student tuititon.  Get the connection? 

Too much national or state debt = higher turition. 

The debt crisis of Europe, the U.S. and many U.S. states like California is a economic problem of the lmitation of finite resources being exceeded.  It is very real and needs to be dealt with.  And it has nothing to do with Wall Street or those mean old Republicans that the moralizers in their ignorance love to scapegoat. Blaming soneone or something else for the economic impacts of a national debt crisis is not a solution.

But the only way to solve problems is to deal with the real cause of the problem - massively excessive government debt that is unsustainable.   

Unfortunately moralizing does not help solve the economic causes of the national debt crisis.   
Vince Killoran | 11/25/2011 - 11:09am
I've been to some Occupy events-the crowd is quite diverse.  The right wing talking point of elitism is incorrect.  But they'll keep writing and talking about elitism in the hope that, if you do so enough times, it will somehow be true.

In an age where many, many working-class and middle-class students need loans this demand for debt relief is compelling.  The rich kids can pay their full tuition.

We, as a society, need math teachers, engineers, chemists, and vetenarians; we need literate college grads. grounded in the liberal arts. It is in our interest to make quality higher education affordable. 
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 11/25/2011 - 10:26am
I thought Fr. Keane was quite right and I see the usua;l partisan suspects continue their coments here on how the big government approach is the problem.
i suspect every one of them is doing well in this ugly economy an want to protect their own self interest.
Such is the the of Catholic blogdom....
Tom Maher | 11/25/2011 - 9:19am
Hey folks have you heard that the federal debt is now at massive 15 trillion dollars which is at a level 100% of our Gross Domestic Product?  And our national debt is growing at a compound rate of over 10% per year, a far higher percent than the growth of our economy?  And the projected growth of all costs of of existing federal programs far exceeds any means of fiancing inclduing drastic increses in taxes and even more governemnt barrowing ?

In  other words our federal and many state governments such as California, despite the great wealth of the country and state have exhausted any plausible ability to be finance itself.  The present levels and number of government expenditures are unsustainable.

So the idea of debt forgiveness from the government or the government making tuition cheaper is very unlikely to happen mostly because the state and federal government are de facto bankrupt.  

The federal government and many states have exhaused their ability to finance themselves.  And their is not enough money in the whole world able to maintain their current level of government expenditures.  

This is not the 1930's anymore where governnement have unused and unlimited credit. The challenge for governement is demonstarted in the collapse of European government finances - is the government able to bring their runaway finances under control before their nation expereinces total financial ruin?

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PJ Johnston | 11/25/2011 - 2:30am
No one whose parents are not willing and able to fully fund their education is able to go to college without a significant student loan burden anymore, unless there are some very unusual circumstances involved.  This is because instead of funding higher education at a level commensurate with rising costs, the government has simply passed off the price to the consumer in tuition hikes instead of increasing appropriations and left individuals to make up the difference in loans.  The federal financial aid formula is supposed to give highest priority to merit and need.  On statistics I've been in the top percentages for both merit and need for my entire educational career (stellar academic performance, raised by a single mother on welfare) and I've never once been in a program where I could meet tuition and expenses through scholarship, gift aid, and work study alone.  And I live pretty cheaply.  The result of this taken into graduate school is an indenturing level of indebtedness.   Take away the availability of student loans without increasing scholarship and gift aid and all you do is remove the possibility of anybody from the working class and below of receiving an education at all.  But what you really ought to be doing is to make it so students need not take out loans.  It's not an accident that the US has nearly the lowest level of upward social mobility in the developed world - a degree is (usually) necessary for upward mobility, but the amount of debt that goes into obtaining the degree overcomes the benefit.  If you're born into the lower classes, you're screwed, even if you're hardworking and at the top of your class.
Crystal Watson | 11/25/2011 - 12:17am
I had a student loan.  I wasn't a member of the upper class elite.  I'd found out I had a degenerative eye disease and decided to get a post-graduate degree in an area that I might be able to do ok in without seeing well.  I couldn't sfford to do it without a loan.  It was hard to decide to apply for it because I was worried about being able to pay it back if something went wrong.  Something went wrong - didn't graduate.  My loan was sold by the governemt to a bank which, even though I was paying on the loan, hounded me relentlessly and even  advised me - no kidding - to take out another loan to pay their loan.  BTW, there is (was?) no way to go bankrupt on a student loan.  After paying part of it, I found out, and not from them, that the remainder of the loan could be forgiven because I was disabled.
Tom Maher | 11/24/2011 - 8:44pm
The backgound to the UC Davis OWS is all schools in the California system are rasing their tuition rates.  The State of California has been in chronic financial trouble for over ten years and can not pay its bills. So all the studentsof the UC system are must pay more tuition and go further itto debt themselves.

But this is due governments with a massive debts.  Not Wall Street   This is exactly what is happening all over Europe where now up to six countries in the Euro zone need to be bailed out they have so much debt that they can no longer finance.

The UC students and other OWS types should get the memo that the days of of starting new big governement spending programs are over.  The world's governments have debt loads they can no longer sustain.   Blame the spending binges of the State of California not Wall Street for the stares massive indebtness that is out of control.
John Inglis | 11/24/2011 - 12:14pm
Without any physical action on the students part, the police action is for all intents and purposes unprovoked. To walk pretty slowly (for this sort of thing) by students that are on the ground and engaged in no physical action and spray all of them shows a very high level of unnecessary harm. Hopefully this video will get out there. People outside the US also take an interest. Daily newspapers outside the US often discuss these incidents with more moral and social detail than our own press. One plus of Catholic publications is what often amounts to a more focused set of values and voice. Thanks Dr. Miller for posting this video with America and for your thoughtful comments.
Gabriel McAuliffe | 11/24/2011 - 9:09am
Something else may also be at work here.  From your post and your video, we do not know exactly what led to the officer's actions.  I did cring at his actions but please do find out what led to the actions in this video.  There is a little more.  As I find an official source, I will post.  In the meantime, it might be best to refrain from comparing these people to civil rights marchers who had a quite a different history Tom the people in this video. 
Stanley Kopacz | 11/24/2011 - 8:26am
After 30 years of watching the country sleepwalking in denial, a new hope.  The entire race of man is heading toward destruction.  And it's the whole system finally grinding itself and all of us down.  It's not just the economic and political system but the whole attitude toward nature.  Look what our greed for the convenience of oil has done to Africa, South America, places as far as Ajerbaijan.  And now it's finally in our back yard with the insanity of fracking.  Will we plunge over the cliff like so many lemmings or finally take collective responsibility for our place on this planet?  Right now, God's experiment in reflexive consciousness is not doing very well, looking more similar in effect to an asteroid impact than a new level of being.  Will there be a change and will it begin with the uprisings throughout the world?  Can we as a race of seven billion fix our relationship with God's creation?  That's the real problem to be addressed.
C Walter Mattingly | 11/24/2011 - 8:09am
Vincent Miller is correct to point out that the students at UC Davis responded peacefully and well to the inappropriate reaction of two policemen dealing with their refusal to disband.  (It is especially welcome after scattered reports of denying access to authorities attempting to follow up on sexual assaults, denying access to medical personnel seeking to assist the needy, creating health hazards, and other acts of general lawlessness which were not common to the civil rights protesters.) To determine whether or not their response compares with the civil rights protestors, we will have to wait and see if such police overreactions are widely repeated and accompanied by the police dog attacks, etc., and met with such noteworthy non-violent responses. Yet the demands of OWS lend some basis for comparison now.

Mr. Miller's statement that "The endless sniping that OWS must embrace a specific set of demands...are so terribly misconceived" lags the most recent developments of the movement. There is now at least one demand that is being widely promoted and disseminated among the OWS members that has received heavy national press coverage: the demand that movement members not repay their student loans.

Student loans, very commonly subsidized by the taxpayers at below market rates to borrowers who are for the most part not eligible for the loans through the normal lending channels, are noteworthy as not only mostly below-market, but having extremely flexible repayment terms to accommodate the needs of newly-graduated students entering the marketplace. Given the unemployment numbers of the current administration, further extending those terms would be reasonable. Now, however, OWS, in its first widespread demand, proposes to respond to the taxpayers who have extended this benefit to them by refusing to live up to their obligations to repay the loans, which were partially subsidized in the first instance. In effect, their first demand is to stiff the very taxpayers who assisted them.

This initial, widespread demand (more accurately, refusal to repay an obligation) of OWS portrays a group that is elitist, self-serving, lacking integrity to their word, and disrespectful to the 99% of Americans who, directly and indirectly, granted them the gift of subsidized loans as a gesture of support and goodwill for their continuing education. As these loans are mostly for post-secondary college education expenses, it follows that the poorest, who disproportionately have not gone on to post-secondary education, would minimally benefit. Such a "demand" which underrepresents the neediest stands in stark contrast to the demands of the civil rights protesters who demanded their rights, not personal enrichment by violating the integrity to their word to repay a loan, biting the hand that fed them.

So one of the first of the demands of OWS is now in. And there is something profoundly not good at work here.