Chico gets another slice of ‘occu’ pie

Occupational hazards

Chico State student Alfred Jones addresses members of Occupy Chico State during a “general assembly” meeting in front of a locked-up Kendall Hall.

Chico State student Alfred Jones addresses members of Occupy Chico State during a “general assembly” meeting in front of a locked-up Kendall Hall.

Photo By Tom gascoyne

Last Thursday (Dec. 1) the group Occupy Chico State made good on its name by setting up an encampment of tents in front of Kendall Hall, which houses the school’s administration. The group had plans to enter the building at about 4 o’clock that afternoon and then decide whether and for how long it would occupy the building.

But the doors were locked at 2 that afternoon on the order of university President Paul Zingg, and entrance was effectively denied. So the group of about 200 students, supporters and faculty gathered in front of the building and decided to set up camp outside. The discussions and speeches were lively and at time downright aggressive. The anger generally centered around last month’s vote by the CSU Board of Trustees to raise tuition $498 per year.

“The powerbrokers of this university reside in the building behind us; a building which is now locked to the students,” one speaker said. “I propose that we camp out on the steps to make ourselves visible to those who hold the power, to those who hold the key and to those who hold the ear of the powers that be in Sacramento.”

At one point an occupier addressed Zingg, who had earlier told the crowd that their real beef was in Sacramento, where the State Legislature and governor are bleeding the university system dry with their severe budget cuts.

Apparently the occupier was not convinced.

“My question,” he said, “was, ‘How much do you make and what do you benefit from the high tuition costs that the students have to pay here?’ And the second thing that I would ask is, ‘What have you done personally other than try to stifle this movement here, through careful and considered rhetoric, to actually help the students that are being, excuse my French, raped?’”

Zingg bristled.

“I’ll respond to the sexist comment you just used in order to characterize this event,” he said angrily.

Someone commented: “Nice rhetoric.”

Zingg shot back: “Damned right it’s good rhetoric. My salary is $279,000. Twenty percent of my salary I give back to this university. I give it back in the form of scholarships, and in fact one of you is a presidential scholar who is supported by my $10,000 a year that I give to that individual.”

When it was over, Zingg commented on the proceedings and where he stood.

“They are concerned about access and affordability and quality, and I am right there with them,” he said. “Contrary to what one or two people may have said, I believe in what they are focused on, which is a common effort to make this university better.”

About 20 occupiers spent the night in five tents. The organization Food Not Bombs supplied food. The faculty association brought in a porta-potty. The main doors to Kendall remained locked. A side door, unlocked between 8 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon, was guarded by two university police officers who allowed entrance only to those who work in the building or those with official business there.

One of the officers said it will remain so until the administration decides to unlock the main doors. Zingg has said the locked doors are for the employees’ protection.

According to its Facebook page, Occupy Chico State will dismantle and leave for winter break, but vows to be back next semester.

In the meantime, the Occupy Chico camp in the City Plaza has abandoned its nightly occupation and is now present only during the day.

On Tuesday (Dec. 5), occupier Diana Fogel and one other person kept vigil at the site on the sidewalk across Broadway from Bank of America. The spot now consists of just a canvas canopy on metal poles and a folding table piled with packets of information.

“We have our literature table and we talk to people when they approach us,” Fogel said. “We don’t chase them down the street.”

Fogel said she’d been a part of the occupation for the past three weeks. At first, she said, she wanted to put in 40 hours a week, but that proved daunting.

“We were trying to keep seven [occupiers on duty at a time], and now that we’re not sleeping here, it’s not as much of a problem,” she said. “There’s gotta be one, and it’s a lot more fun if it’s two.”

She said the police did not force them to remove the tents and, in fact, “have been very decent to us.”

The empty tents at night created a problem, she said.

“You know nature abhors a vacuum, and the homeless were cold,” she explained. “So they’d want to sleep in the tents. This became very controversial for the occupiers. Some people said it’s fine, let it go, and others said it’s not fine, that there were problems connected to it.”

She said she will continue her occupation and that on this day she was planning to leave at 1:15 in the afternoon.

“At least that is what I hope,” she said. “But if no one is here, I’ll stay however long I have to stay.”