Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Anatomy of a Protest: 2009

The Scene: Eastern Kentucky University
8:55 AM - and about a block away from the protest site. All's quite. Police hover.

9:00 AM - Time for the protest to begin. Daniel Boone is present. The Eastern Progress photog is present. The protesters... not so much.

Grad student Rebecca Sears reports a lot of activity on Facebook all morning. EKU students have been changing their status in support of the protest. So the place is packed - virtually.

KSN&C spies one R. Fern- a known associate of famous UK student radical from another era Steve Bright - approaching the protest scene.

KSN&C: Excuse me, Sir, but aren't you an associate of that famous 60's radical, Steve Bright?

Fern: Why, yes I am. He's at the Southern Poverty Law Center now isn't, he?

KSN&C: Last I heard, I believe so. But tell me Sir, are you here to protest this morning?

Fern: Protest what?

So much for that scoop.

9:02 - The first protester arrives. Jordan Yurt, Lexington, Junior 9:08 - Stuart Warren, Harrodsburg, Senior, arrives with breakfast, but he didn't bring Jordan any. He also brought a sign that said: 9:15 AMKSN&C returned after class. By 10:30 AM the group had grown by five people and three signs, and now the signs all said something. Warren declined to characterize the group other than to say, "some might be libertarian and some might be Republican."

Heidi Jenkins, Lexington, Sophomore (with naughty pink sign)
Luke Morgan, Lexington, Junior (second from right)
...and others arrive

Asked about her sign, Jenkins said,

I've offended a lot of people. I've gotten a lot of attention. I think it really drives the point across. You know if there wasn't any free speech, you couldn't say whatever you wanted to say. And if I want to say that lack of free speech is bullshit, I'm allowed to.
Education Dean Bill Phillips stopped by to listen to and encourage the students for standing up for free speech.

Warren told Phillips the story of his being chased away by Interim Police Chief Mark Merriman during Congressman Ben Chandler's recent visit to campus.
"We had one sign and five guys talking to one another, sitting here on these benches. They told us we had to leave, and that we had to register. All we were doing was sitting here...not talking to one single person who didn't come up to us," Warren said.

The sign read: "Ben Can't Win in 2010"

Warren added,

I like Dr Whitlock and I think he's a wonderful person and he's going to be the first person to help us stand up for this. I thought it was awesome of him to have Jordan and I come in and meet with him yesterday morning.

Finally, a crowd arrived. But it turned out to be a tour group of prospective students visiting the campus. Apparently, they always take groups past the Daniel Boone statue. The tour guide asked the protesters to share their views with the visitors, which they did.

I left with them. As we departed, lead protester Warren shouted to the visitors, "Good luck, guys. We really do have a wonderful university."

In the interest of full disclosure, Rick Fern and I were frat brothers at UK in 1970, during a different kind of protest. As I recall, neither of us would pass for protesters. As the ROTC building burned, I was helping evacuate Blazer Hall next door. Both of us were friends of Bright, who appeared, a la Animal House, in my dorm room one night to extend a bid to join Sigma Nu. Fern teaches economics at EKU. Bright is a lawyer who works for the elimination of the death penalty.


Anonymous said...

I was saddened by what clearly is the lack of political activism at EKU. A picture sometimes is worth a thousand words....

Richard Day said...

I found myself experiencing a range of emotions, but not sadness, so much - more amusement.

Sure, by historical standards this was a pitiful little demonstration.

Given that Whitlock stepped in and made the problem go away; and it became clear to the protesters that they were not going to be bothered, let alone arrested, this protest probably generated the level of furor it should have.

Whitlock said the problem grew out of a misunderstanding, but he never indicated whose.

Were students protesting a restrictive policy that doesn't exist? Maybe. But they were forced to put away their "Ben Can't Win in 2010" sign the other day.

Was it the interm police chief who misunderstood campus policy when he chased the protesters away? Apparently so.

Once Whitlock made it clear that students were free (even encouraged) to express themselves anywhere on campus, it took a lot of the air out of the idea.

Still, this group of students took a perceived bad policy and got it clarified into a good policy, then tested it to be sure, and it held up.

The protest may have fizzled. The protesters did not.