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The Blue & Gray Press | August 21, 2019

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Campus Protests Have Wrong Aim

Campus Protests Have Wrong Aim


When Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former political advisor to President Bush, Karl Rove, came to speak at the University of Mary Washington, they caused more than a stir.

Talks of protests by several student groups on campus led many to be concerned about what was going to take place as they made their way to these events.
Cuccinelli was interrupted by protesters, who overwhelmingly populated the room, holding signs and shouting responses to each statement in his speech.

During Rove’s speech, the protesters overwhelmed Fredericksburg residents, and students trying to make a point by barricading some patrons from the door.
These overly vocal protesters caused many people on the right to be shocked and angered, a result the protesters probably hoped for.

Unfortunately, it did not leave many people talking about the issues, which is the point of a protest.

It did, however, leave a bad taste in the audience’s mouths as they felt that these students had acted in a disrespectful way towards Cuccinelli and Rove.
So this leads us to question: is this form of protest constitutional and is it effective?

Although these students are practicing their freedom of speech by protesting, are they not also “abridging” the speech of the person, such as Cuccinelli, who is being interrupted by them?

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” This doesn’t stop people from infringing on each other’s free speech, but it is hypocritical to be doing so when the your First Amendment right is the basis for your protest.
On the other hand, when questioning the effectiveness of the protests, the purpose of protesting must be kept in mind.

A protest is a demonstration to publicly show disapproval and bring forth change.

When talking to the attending patrons after they encountered the protesters at Rove’s speech, I did not find them talking about the issues being protested.
Instead, I found them saying how annoying the protesters were, that they were heckled and felt encroached by those students.

This begs the question: did the students fulfill the purpose of the protest?

No matter what conclusion is drawn from these questions, whether constitutional or not, whether effective or not, progress is being made because this is being talked about.

These conversations are important.

They cause us to question our behaviors and to think and talk about the Constitution.

This, not interrupting and heckling, is the true cause of change and results.

Progress was not achieved through these protests.


  1. anonymous

    Well said.

    Being yelled at that I am not pure of heart because I am a Republican does not make me take you seriously or want to have a discussion about any issues; it makes me think that you are rude and are more interested i fighting and provoking than in making a positive change.

  2. My campus is a free speech zone

    When I heard that there was going to be a protest against having Karl Rove speak at UMW, I took it upon myself to observe the entire demonstration. I made sure to arrive before the first signs appeared and before the first chants began and I stayed until the crowd dispersed.

    Ms. Stepanov, I can attest to the fact that at no point during the demonstration did protesters attempt to barricade the door. While I did observe several exchanges between attendees and demonstrators, these appeared to have been instigated by the attendees themselves.

  3. Will

    I was one of the people who was demonstrating at the Karl Rove event. We did not barricade anything and we certainly were not targeting audience members.

    I’ll accept as correct your observation that audience members were not prompted to engage in constructive discussion as a result of our demonstration. But the conclusion you drew from it – that the protest was a failure – is wrong. You see, we never expected to encourage such discussion among audience members, since their willingness to spend money on tickets for Rove’s speech shows how unlikely they were to be swayed by demonstrations such as ours. It is inappropriate to use their reaction to measure our demonstration’s success.

    The purpose of the protest was to demonstrate our disapproval of Karl Rove and the role he played in the Bush Administration and to express how we were shocked and disappointed that UMW would invite a war criminal to our campus. Our goal was to raise awareness of Rove’s crimes and to generate discussions within the general public. Seeing the number of Letters to the Editor in this issue concerning the demonstrations, I’d say our efforts to raise awareness and express disapproval were quite successful.

  4. 2010 Alumnus

    Amongst whom are you trying to raise awareness in with this and other assorted protests? You already acknowledge that those who paid to watch Rove speak are beyond redemption. Most of the Democratic base is already aware of who Rove is and what he has done, if not explicitly, then his association with the GOP is enough to condemn him. So who is left to be made aware? Moderates? If moderates are as sensible and pragmatic as both parties make them out to be (trying to flatter them into supporting one side over the other), heckling is not going to win any support over to your cause. At the end of the day, this has been reported and is seen as an undisciplined, frivolous, and pointless protest put on by priveliged college kids who are wasting their parents’ money by picketing rather than studying.

    Next time you get an opportunity like this, try harder to not waste it.

  5. Arnold

    As far as I’m concerned, there is only one way to solve this dilemma: let’s have a campus forum about freedom of speech vs. the heckler’s veto.

    The only question remains of who should host it?

  6. Lauren

    Hey Bullet- NOBODY BLOCKED ANY ENTRANCES AT ANY POINT. Ms. Stepanov, why are you lying?

  7. Lauren

    Also, please attend these protests and watch it for yourself before voicing an uneducated opinion.

  8. ARNOLD! I can host it!

  9. anon

    But really- can I inquire as to why someone who was not at the protest, nor spoke with any of us, was able to make those assertions?

  10. It’s funny: You can talk about abortions, wars, and other such issues without having been a part of any of them.

  11. 2010 Alumnus

    By that logic, the only people who can talk about abortions are pregnant women and the only people who can talk about wars are those who have lived it. It is the wonderful privilege of being an American citizen that allows us to voice opinions on events that we had no part in, protest abuses we did not suffer, and become offended on behalf of people we have never met. Let’s try not to squander it on frivolous nonsense. Or at least come up with a cogent argument before opening our mouths.

    Do you really think that Rove is a war criminal? First of all, such inflammatory remarks will get you nowhere unless it’s backed up with concrete evidence. Your hurt feelings or indignation on behalf of Afghans and Iraqis you’ve never met is offensive. Would I, and most people, like to hold accountable the person(s) who sent some of the most promising youths of this nation to go kill some of the most promising youths of Iraq and Afghanistan, to die on foreign soil, far from their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and anything familiar to them? Does someone need to be held responsible for wasting so many lives? And the futures of many more, squandered away like the so many billions of dollars policymakers burned through to finance this catastrophe? Yes. A thousand times yes but the people responsible for what you so eloquently frame as Rove’s war crimes are really our own. They were committed by the soldiers on the ground and the airmen in the sky who shot down Iraqis and Afghanis and covered them in white phosporous. They were committed by the policymakers who sent them there. They were committed by the voters that put those policymakers into office. Every single one of us bears responsibility for those so-called war crimes. Democrats and Republicans, nihilists and apathetics, all share the responsiblity because we all live in a society, not a vacuum. Oh? You didn’t vote for Bush? Why didn’t you convince more of your peers to vote for Gore? Oh? You were too young to have cast a ballot? Why didn’t you have the foresight to know what would happen and beg your parents to vote differently? Such arguments are as absurd as trying to place all the blame on a particular administration. The best we can do is to learn and try our best to not commit the same mistakes again. What were the real war crimes that have been going on for the past decade and more? Apathy amongst the voting population. Cynicism that nothing can change. Incoherence amongst the opposition.

    I challenge you, UMW, to use your freedom of speech correctly. To not waste this precious gift that we so blithley call a right. To open your mouth and utter something as trite as “You Fail” while people are dying overseas to win even the ability to speak one’s mind, is an insult to not just those martyrs overseas, but to generations past who fought and argued so ELOQUENTLY for the right to free and unfettered speech.

    I challenge you to be eloquent in your protestations.
    I challenge you to not resort to inflammatory remarks and petty name-calling.
    I challenge you to research your facts from a variety of sources before you throw out figures and statistics.
    I challenge you to really listen to those who have a different point of view than you. Listen to their arguments and their beliefs and don’t be dismissive. Learn from one another.
    I challenge you to truly embrace the different, and to not just tolerate, but appreciate.
    I challenge you to open your eyes and see that there is a bigger world out there than this one small campus, and that it needs us, all of us, together. Not just one small part, not just the College Republicans or SDS, but all of us.

  12. Challenge accepted.

    Result: I’m going full on apolitical. Fuck this, I’m going home. Apathy over 9000%.