On Monday, March 13, students from the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) — joined by other students, professors, original SDSers, and CAN members from CCNY — launched one of the largest demonstrations Pace University’s campus had seen, against Pace’s denial of our free speech rights. The university, not accustomed to being challenged, let alone having to deal with large protests, was not prepared for it.
While Pace University President David Caputo was giving his “State of the University” address, an annual ritual of self-congratulation, we exposed the Real State of the University: infringement of civil liberties; union-busting of the adjunct professors’, cafeteria workers’, and transportation workers’ unions; and a university deficit of $3.2 million. All this is happening while Pace is “celebrating” its 100th anniversary.
|Click on the image to see Bill Clinton heckled.
First, we held a press conference on the steps of New York City Hall addressing repression of both students and workers at Pace. The latest example of Pace’s intolerance of dissent is its threat to expel two students — myself and Lauren Giaccone — who dared to heckle former US president Bill Clinton — a war criminal whose sanctions on Iraq had killed more Iraqis than even President Bush’s deadly war — at Pace’s Pleasantville campus on March 5 while he was giving a speech about “spreading democracy” and “working for peace.” The threatened expulsion came on top of Pace’s apparent cooperation with the Secret Service in their attempt to get a hold of such information as our political affiliation and medical records.
Revealing Pace’s attitude to free speech again, three top members of Pace University’s security office had left the university and followed the students through the streets to City Hall and watched the press conference closely. Undaunted, we then marched toward Pace’s downtown campus, chanting, “FREE SPEECH! FREE SPEECH!”
As we began our protest after the press conference, one of the NYPD inspectors pulled me and Lauren aside. They had the temerity to ask whether we intended to “burn down the building” or go inside. What kind of question is that?
Surrounded by a dozen police officers on motorcycles on one side and several Pace security officers on the other side, we loudly demanded: “Support Free Speech on Campus.” We read out letters of support from Cindy Sheehan and other leading anti-war and free speech activists, who had written to President Caputo asking him to drop all charges against me and Lauren.
We spoke out on a bullhorn for barely 15 minutes before the NYPD stopped us, claiming that it was a violation of city code for us to use amplified sound. We put the bullhorn away in the interest of protecting all the supporters there, but not before we informed them of the First Amendment of the United States and Saia v. New York, in which the Supreme Court stated: “Loud-speakers are today indispensable instruments of effective public speech. . . . It is the way people are reached.”
Brian Kelly at the Press Conference
Democracy Now! interviewed us afterwards about the day’s events. Amy Goodman covered them during her daily broadcast on Tuesday (around minute 10 of her broadcast). Reporters from Channel 9, the Pace press, and the Indypendent also came.
Police and campus security weren’t the only authorities present. A white Department of Homeland Security car drove by, pausing and then speeding away back onto the Brooklyn Bridge when activists attempted to photograph it. What was Homeland Security doing at a freaking campus protest, you may ask? That’s par for course in the USA today. Remember when the Pentagon was caught spying on anti-war activists? Many Campus Antiwar Network rallies and counter-recruitment protests were on the Pentagon’s surveillance list leaked to the press. The government is making it clear: if you are against the war or step out of what we define as acceptable free speech, We Are Watching You.
As the protest neared its end, several of us decided to enter the university and question President Caputo during a question-and-answer session after his “State of the University” address. Not surprisingly, we were met with resistance from campus security, who said they would have us removed on “disorderly conduct charges” after one activist put a free speech sign up to the glass of the window where Caputo was speaking. After we were finally let in, Caputo swiftly ended the q&a session. As he was leaving, though, we confronted him about the repression of free speech on campus. Caputo agreed to meet with the group after spring break.
The battle is not over. Pace students plan to continue our fight until we are allowed to express ourselves freely, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, and until Pace University amends its unconstitutional policy that prohibits free speech and free assembly.
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Brian Kelly is the president of Pace University’s Campus Antiwar Network and a member of the Students for a Democratic Society and the Green Party. He is one of the activists currently being threatened with expulsion for his efforts to organise against the war and in support of unions on campus. You can reach him at Kelly@leftist.ws or 845-649-2146.