Grace Davie is a Queens College history professor who earned a Ph.D in African history, a mother of two boys, a scholar and an award-winning author, but her new title, that of “activist,” is one that she said would not had been attributable 10 years ago.
Davie, 37, now known for what is being called her “mic-check” during Gov. Cuomo’s speech at Queens College on Jan. 19, was fixated on achieving her career aspirations and was never previously involved hands-on with any brand of activism. As of September 2011, that much has changed. The tenured professor is bringing her prior knowledge ofGandhi’s work and social-political inequality issues in South Africa to the forefront of conversations during Occupy Queens —a group which stemmed from the Occupy Wall Street movement — general assembly meetings in Jackson Heights.
Davie said it is easier for her to get involved now because she has immersed herself in the history of Africa, where people confronted obstacles such as slave-trade, colonial conquest, and unrepresentative and abusive governments.
“We have the power to change ourselves,” Davie said. “We have the power to imagine different societies. We can learn about the past, we can think about the future, we can learn about different cultures and we can say ‘it doesn’t have to be this way; this reality is not the only possibility.’ We have the power to put pressure on elected leaders and on each other.”
Davie did not receive word that Cuomo was arriving at Queens College until the night before his scheduled visit. But that did not stop her from attending and ultimately trying to make a difference.
“As soon as she found out, she emailed as many people as she could from Occupy Queens,” said Katie Ferrari, who graduated from Queens College in 2011, and Occupy Queens facilitator who Davie has befriended at the meetings in Jackson Heights.
Moments after Cuomo took the stand, Davie did something that she said only she was aware would happen.
“I just felt like I absolutely had to interrupt him,” she said.
A staunch believer in non-violent protests, she stood up and asked for a “mic-check.” Occupy protesters use the “mic check” call as a signal to repeat in unison what the lead demonstrator is about to say. Davie received no support after she called out, but managed to make her point before being asked to sit down while the governor tried to talk over her. Davie asked Cuomo to do more for the 99 percent, with the 99 percent.
“I want Gov. Cuomo to double his commitment to public education, to create even more jobs,” Davie said as she remained standing. “Occupy Wall Street is a non-violent movement; we are fighting for justice and freedom. Please join us.”
The professor explained that she felt her actions were necessary because she wanted to represent the students who protested CUNY’s tuition increases in recent months.
Her interruption, she said, actually does not even have much to do with being against Cuomo himself.
“When I found out I was so happy and proud that I know her,” Ferrari said. “I feel like the student population never had a voice and it may have worked well because she was a professor.”
Davie started to get involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement somewhat by chance because her mother-in-law, whom she visits on the weekends, lives a few blocks from Zuccotti Park, the site that protestors occupied for weeks. She wandered into the park only about three times, but the individuals she encountered inspired her to learn more and try to raise awareness at Queens College.
“The first thing to know about Occupy Wall Street is that whatever you think you know, you probably don’t,” she said. “Every week I learn it’s a lot more complex and diverse than I thought it was.”
The history professor-turned activist then started to organize a teach-in on the Flushing campus with the help of two other faculty members and invited guest activists from the movement.
In late November, she participated in a walk-out with students at the college on a date that was labeled as a day of action in universities nationwide.
Davie invited Hadas Fruchter, a student activist and senior at Queens College, to her class on social movements last semester to help coordinate a discussion on the Occupy Wall Street protest and other social movements.
“I was so thrilled that she devotedclass timeto a genuine discussion about the role of student activism,” Fruchter said. “Even though I was just meeting her, Iimmediatelygot the sense that she is a force and an incredible change-maker.”
Davie is now part of the city-wide general assembly planning, and she is also working on inter-occupy conference calls, which enable different general assemblies throughout the city and country to communicate with each other about once a week and share ideas and issues.
The married mother of two boys, ages six and three, admitted it is hard juggling family, her career and her newfound passion for activism and “horizontal,” or essentially grassroots, democracy.
She once had her 6-year-old son attend a meeting in Jackson Heights with her.
“It is hard, and some people are trying to figure out how to have fewer meetings,” Davie said. “The rules are so horizontal. It’s not like ‘OK, we are going to get things done.’ It can seem like it takes too long to get things done.”
Despite the drawbacks, Davie is steadily involved with more planning for some of the movement’s ideas this spring.
“It’s not a leaderless movement; it’s kind of like a leader-full movement,” she said. “One reason I’m involved in this is that so many people are no longer feeling powerless.”
Her participation is something that would not have happened a decade ago because she has said she was so concentrated on earning her degree and later working for her students that activism was not on her mind.
“It was just the right time in my life for this,” Davie said.
Ferrari and other members of the Occupy Queens movement said they are grateful for the timing.