I am a member of the faculty at UC Davis, and my campus has been roiled these past few days by violent actions taken by the campus police, directed at non-violently protesting students. The video of campus police pepper-spraying students has been seen ’round the world, and letters of protest, outrage and demands have been blowing up my email inbox all weekend.
On Sunday, just as I was catching up on Friday’s events, I was also set to present at a panel at the American Academy of Religion Conference, in San Francisco. The panel was convened by the good people behind Freq.uenci.es, a “collaborative genealogy of spirituality” and a website to which I’ve contributed. I prepared some remarks, but I felt impelled to preface them by saying how weird it felt to talk about spirituality life on my campus — for my students, colleagues and friends — had changed irrevocably. I opened with some comments about feeling that tension, and then went on with the show. I explained that I was having a hard time reconciling these two things, but that I was okay to live with that unreconciled tension.
This morning, on my way to participate in the General Assembly at UC Davis, a friend told me about another video. A second video – not of police and protesters, but of the Chancellor, Linda Katehi, being walked to her car, following an on campus meeting Saturday night. In the video, you see Katehi walking down a road, flanked by hundreds of silent, standing students, making their protest as loudly as possible by not saying a thing.
All you hear are her heels click-clacking on the asphalt.
That video, not the one of the cops, speaks to the power of these students that this community. And the sound of her heels amidst the crowd of hundreds of students express perfectly the potential in this moment. Potential that is political, and dare I say: spiritual, too.