UC Berkeley Makes #OWS History With Biggest GA Yet

I was there last night for the massive general assembly. I filed this piece for The Atlantic: Mario Savio was a UC Berkeley student in the '60s and a key member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He's become an activist icon; Mario Savio

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I was there last night for the massive general assembly. I filed this piece for The Atlantic:

Mario Savio was a UC Berkeley student in the '60s and a key member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He's become an activist icon; Mario Savio Youth Activist awards are given out by his memorial fund. By the '90s, the steps of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus where he gave his now famous "put your bodies upon the gears" speech were renamed the Mario Savio Steps. It was there last Wednesday that police raided an hours-old Occupy Cal protest and pounded student activists with batons. Yes, the chancellor of the university that celebrates Savio in its brochures, Robert J. Birgeneau, waited mere minutes before setting in motion a response that saw students beaten on the very steps bearing Savio's name ... just for setting up tents.

As the massive Occupy crackdown unfolded nationally, students facing yet another tuition hike -- in a UC system that has seen its tuition triple in 10 years -- took note and took to organizing.

In less than a week the campus had a general strike. Tuesday most classes were cancelled. And it just so happened to be the day the annual event Mario Savio memorial at Sproul Hall was going to take place. Which in turn led to the largest General Assembly (GA) in the history of the Occupy movement.

An amazing coincidence. One of those historical ironies that should make the school administration cringe indefinitely.

Some 4,000 (if you were to be really conservative) participated in a massive direct democracy meeting, now commonly referred to as the GA. The sea of students was tutored in the now identifiable consensus hand signs used by the movement. The facilitators laid out the ground rules: They were going to vote on whether or not to bring back the tents and set up an Occupation on campus. Yes, it was against the rules. Would they all (80 percent anyway) agree this was the right course of action? The GA attendees broke up into groups of 20 to discuss. That's right: 4,000 people broke up into groups of 20 with at least three helicopters hovering just above to discuss the merits of the action. And then the facilitators clarified: just because you vote "yes" doesn't mean you're obligated to sleep there.

Read the rest of the piece here.

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About Tina Dupuy

Tina Dupuy's picture
I write for Fast Company, The Atlantic, Mother Jones and LA Weekly among many (many) others. My weekly column is syndicated in these things called "newspapers," which are analog blogs 80-year-olds seem to enjoy.

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