From Davis, with love
by David Lacy
To many right now, Davis, CA is merely a collection of images on the
The video of the methodical and brutal pepper-spraying of students
protesting the dramatically exponential increases in tuition (in tandem
with class cuts and disappearing employment prospects) has soared across
the “interwebs,” garnering millions of views and understandable anger,
hell, even livid rage.
I attended elementary, junior high, senior high, community college, and
university in Davis. (Probably should have explored the world a tad
earlier, huh?) I spent 8 years reporting for the city newspaper and even –
I kid you not – launched a successful exploratory bid for city council
before I decided to return to school. I wrote a weekly column that, in
2003, won first place in the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association.
My identity is immersed in and shaped by the small Northern Californian
town tucked in-between the globally-influential bay area and the pristine
beauty of the Sierra Nevadas.
When I was a kid in Davis we had shaving cream fights in a cordoned off
area of downtown every Picnic Day (more on that event in a moment). We
sprayed soupy cream at our faux arch nemeses and after the melee cleared,
police volunteers hosed down the asphalt with water (chemical ingredient:
H20). That innocent fight is a mainstay in most natives’ childhood
memories. Ask them. It will make them grin with remembrance.
Fighting for fun in frothy fanfare.
Although most are unaware, Davis has made national news on many prior
occasions. Fortunately, most of that attention resulted from innovative or
quirky stories: A $10,000 toad tunnel to protect amphibians from
automotive decapitation. A mayor who proposed planting fruit trees along
the railroad tracks for homeless folks to “graze.” A woman who was cited
by police for snoring too audibly. I even recall when The Daily Show
visited the editorial room of the paper I worked at to interview our top
columnist. We’ve also had the highest ratio of bicycles to population and
been recognized for having the “best Farmer’s Market” in the nation.
We have an annual Picnic Day, the country’s largest student-run event and
social function. We also have Whole Earth Day, an epic homage to peace,
environment, music, and culture.
I return to Davis approximately once a month and there’s nowhere I feel
more at home. Orange County is still, for the most part alien to my core
sense of identity and I don’t suspect this will ever change. My heart
responds automatically to the summer smells of ripened tomatoes and the
winter fogs that drape the low farmlands. I am a child of grapes,
strawberries and soil; not of glass, steel and asphalt.
Davis is where I formed my strongest friendships. It’s where my
Godchildren live. It’s where I traipsed around campus in the middle of the night with an entourage of friends, philosophizing until the cool early hours of the central valley mornings.
I’ve played hide-and-go-seek in the 5-story Shields library; drank “40s”
in the park with hometown friends; karaoked with inebriated class
Some on the outside feel like the recent UCD police brutality claimed a
piece of Davis’ previously quiet innocence. They suggest the conflict
tarnished both the campus and the town’s charm and moral character.
I couldn’t disagree more.
When I watch the video of the officers’ assault on non-violent
undergraduate protesters, I see the Davis I know so intimately. I see a
small handful of power-crazed police who feel remarkably inadequate about
the size of their “batons” and a counter-surgency of engaged and
passionate young people who beat law enforcement back utilizing only their
vocal chords and intertwined arms.
My hometown has given me hope for so many things in the past: friendships,
education, true love, and life opportunities.
Now Davis has given me hope for another thing: Change.
Change from a town that, ironically, has changed so little.