Monday, October 09, 2006

A tale of two protests (or three)

You've probably seen the story already, but last week there was a lovely display of what passes for freedom of speech (or lack thereof) up at Columbia University. Here is the initial story from the Columbia Spectator, and here is an update talking about the use of Facebook in trying to identify the protesters. There's been lots of blog commentary about this already, for example here, here, and here. What I always find depressing about stuff like this are the "yes, but" free speech advocates. As in (from the first article):

"'I don't feel like we need to apologize or anything. [YES] It was fundamentally a part of free speech. ... [BUT] The Minutemen are not a legitimate part of the debate on immigration.'"
Sounds remarkably like lots of people who don't like anyone disagreeing with them. Like I said the other day in a slightly different context, there is no right not to be offended. It shouldn't need to be said, but freedom of speech actually means freedom for those with whom you disagree as well. Inconvenient, I know, but that's the way it is (or at least is supposed to be).

As far as I'm concerned, this is much more my type of campus protest these days, courtesy of my graduate school alma mater.

All this talk of college protests, though, had me reminiscing about some of the protests from my undergrad days here. One story in particular stood out. Back when I was in college, California passed Proposition 187. For those who don't remember, it was a ballot measure that eliminated certain benefits for illegal immigrants in California. Quite controversial at the time, it passed with 59% of the vote, though it was never enacted due to judicial review.

Anyway, one day on campus (in Connecticut, obviously) about a month after the election, I was walking with a friend in the campus center. There was a table set up (as was quite typical), in this case to sign petitions, "Against Prop 187." Known for always getting a kick out of engaging with the protesters of the day (my favorites were the guys from the Workers Vanguard, but that's for another time), I approached to find out more.

So, I walk up, and one of the woman manning the operation asks me to sign. I ask her what the petition is for, and she starts telling me about the evils of the measure. Stepping in when her need for breath made her (thankfully) stop talking for a second, I said: "That may all be true, but those arguments were for before the election. The election has come, the measure passed, and now it's going to be stuck in the courts thanks to challenges, etc. What's the point of a petition regarding a pending court case involving a duly passed statute?"

"It's important that people know how we feel," she offered, also starting to look a little uncomfortable at having to answer a question at all. Doesn't this guy know he's just supposed to sign?

After a few more equally unenlightening exchanges, the conversation was getting tedious. About to leave, I did inquire as to what they were going to do with the petitions themselves.

"Oh, we're bringing them to the Governor," she said.

I will tell you, I was taken aback, and a little impressed. Maybe I had sold her short. True, a petition trying to influence a court about a case in front of it struck me as inappropriate and obtuse, but on the other hand at least they were making the effort to get these things all the way out to California, and in the hands of the person who would be responsible to enforce the law itself.

"Wow," I offered, "you're bringing these out to Gov. Wilson?"

"Oh, no," was the quick and sort of confused reply, "Gov. Weicker." For those of you who don't know, Lowell Weicker was the governor of Connecticut at the time. And, even better, he hadn't run for reelection that year, and so was a lame duck in the midst of the transition out of office.

So, it seems that the great plan was to convince the governor of Connecticut to mount some form of protest against the great state of California for the law. All options were to be on the table - public condemnations, sanctions, retaliatory measures. Alas, thanks to judicial intervention, the full force of Connecticut's retaliatory powers never were brought to bear. But I'm sure California was quaking in its boots.

At this point, realizing I had nothing left to add, I headed off for my lunch, secure in the knowledge that passionate people were letting the powers that be know how they felt. Never mind that they were the wrong powers.

And that my friends was my witness to the great Connecticut-California Embargo of 1994. Never heard of it? Why am I not surprised . . .

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