I DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH news coverage it received, but on Tuesday April 14th, my wife and I attended an event on the University of North Carolina campus. We came to be informed but the students were so loud often we could barely hear the person speaking -- even though when we were just few feet away. It was a wonderful experience.
We were at the Undergraduate Scholarship Dinner, held to recognize UNC scholarship donors and recipients. The happy noise was mostly that of undergraduates excitedly telling scholarship donors about classes they were taking, majors they were considering, planned summer jobs and internships, and where they hoped to study abroad. Strange thing, students excited about learning.
Meanwhile, at the same time, we were missing an event over at Bingham Hall. There former Republican congressman and one-time presidential candidate Tom Tancredo was trying to give a speech on his views on education and illegal immigration. In short what happened is his talk never happened as he was shouted down, chanted over and bullied off the dais and out of town.
The protesters who did this think that Trancredo is a fascist. Personally, I don't know – and neither does anyone else who hasn’t heard him speak or read what he has written.
Tancredo thinks these protesters are the fascists. As he is quoted as saying afterwards, "A fascist is a fascist." I don't know what else he might be right about but he's sure right about that. Actions, in this case, certainly spoke louder than words from protesters' bullhorns ever could.
This event was not a "free-speech fiasco" -- as it has been termed by one newspaper -- at least not according to the primary organizer of the protest action, a UNC graduate student in Romance languages who heads the reincarnated Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
He said he regretted the broken window but not silencing Tancredo. "He was not able to practice his hate speech," said the student, who I will not name because I'm not contributing to his fame.
Despite SDS's post-event press release, I will say this is exactly what they hoped for. This is exactly how they operate. This is, as they call it, direct action. Getting police to "over-react" is part and parcel of it.
Before their protest, we knew the protesters were opposed to the lecture’s sponsors, Youth for Western Civilization. After listening to their taunts ("Western civilization killed my ancestors"), we find out they are opposed to Western Civilization itself. And after watching their acts, we now know they are opposed to civilization altogether.
Another of their chants ("Yes, racists, we will fight, we know where you sleep at night!") makes that abundantly clear.
But I may be completely wrong. UNC geography professor Altha Cravey is reported to have joined protesters in chanting the names of Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus. Perhaps this whole event was a geography field trip.
Another protest banner said, "No dialogue with hate." This, obviously, is really what they are about -- because they weren't listening and don't want anyone else to listen either.
Lizette Lopez of the Carolina Hispanic Organization deserves credit for vainly admonishing the crowd inside the hall to be quiet. "We'd like to hear what he has to say," she said. "Honestly, we were the ones who had more at stake" than the vocal protesters, said Lopez, calling it "depressing" that freedom of speech lost the night.
Chancellor Holden Thorp, you have said the right things -- now please act decisively to make sure the right things get done. There are students, and maybe even faculty, who were at Bingham Hall who need to be suspended, expelled and even charged with crimes -- and lots of photos and videos showing who they are.
And, Chancellor Thorp, please respond quickly so that the students like the ones I was having dinner with still want to apply to UNC, and so the donors sponsoring scholarships still want to give their money to the University they still want to love.
Gary D. Gaddy studied at UNC's School of Journalism and Mass Communication where they teach their students how to think, speak and write, but not how to keep others from doing so.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday April 23, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy