Fight For Your Right To Assemble

Originally I set out to write this editorial in order to show that the four-twenty protest was not just a marijuana festival at UVM, but instead an act of civil disobedience against completely ludicrous, backwards, and insensible policies representing greater issues and injustices present in America today. Current marijuana laws are just one example of injustices becoming increasingly prevalent in United States law. Such laws pose a threat to basic rights to citizens of America; rights, which are slowly diminishing i.e new FCC regulations, Patriot Act protocols, etc… For instance, the Higher education Act-(nullifying a student’s financial aid for college for simply getting caught with even the most minute amount of marijuana), wasted money spent on a drug war against marijuana that has proved largely ineffective (when the same money being used to fight the war could be better allocated towards issues like Medicare and fighting poverty), and excessive punishment for being caught with even small amounts of Marijuana (i.e Rockefeller laws in New York) are all examples of the gross injustices with our current policy. However, after pondering President Fogel’s letter for quite some time, I found myself in a crux; I was torn between what I felt in my heart and what was best for the students’ and university’s image and reputation. I really began to see the validity of President Fogel’s viewpoint, that the four-twenty event would be an act that could possibly tarnish the university’s image. In past years, the central message of the four twenty event has not been about protecting our civil liberties. Even though this may have been an underlying motive of the gathering, the event was focused around simply getting high in a public space.

The Smoke Out posed a serious risk to UVM, due to threats from the Vermont legislator to cut funding for the institution. I understand that UVM’s reputation, as a party school, is not something that coincides with strengthening the academic prestige of this university and the individual value of each of our diplomas. However, looking at the motives behind this year’s event, the negative image portrayed in the President’s letter is largely inaccurate. Fogel is basing his opinion largely on pre-2002 four-twenties, which is indeed completely logical, because he is just looking out for what he believes is best for UVM and the student body. What is illogical, not to mention unreasonable and borderline, if not, illegal, is how the administration has dealt with trying to thwart the protest this year. The institution has not allowed for students to reshape the image of the protest to more of a general civil liberties protest. There has been little compromise between the students’ desires and that of the university. This lack of discourse is due to the university putting the threat of smoking of marijuana over the collective voice of the student body. While trying to enforce the law is completely plausible behavior, taking measures such as reserving all greens for no reason other than preventing students to voice their opinion(for further info check uvm website), due to the possible threats the university may deal with from having smoking occur on the grounds of the university and making an unwritten law that no events regardless of their content are allowed to take place on 4/20, is completely unjust.

Instead of creating a secret panel of administrators to come up with measures in order to prevent such an event, would it not have been a better and more intelligent method to talk to students about their thoughts and purpose of such an event? Enforcing the law through unjust measures is an outrage that cannot be tolerated. Banning students and clubs access to the common greens of the university, not allowing for a podium with a microphone to be set up in order for people to express their feelings as to what the event represents to them, simply because their may be a threat of some marijuana smoke, is largely contradictory according to the ideals of justice and our First Amendment rights.

Is not being allowed to voice your opinion not a disgusting breach in UVM’s favorite slogan “promoting diversity?” Is it so soon that the administration forgets what occurred at last years event where the university arrested two students for simply asking for protesters to gather together? Is settling an out of court lawsuit for $15,000 in compensation for their illegal actions an example of promoting a positive image? Instead of wasting this ridiculous amount of money, the university could have used the same $15,000 to realistically help bolster the university’s academic image by contributing the money to enhance programs or help pay university employees more equitably. President Fogel’s letter asks students to assess their role when considering partaking in such an event. He states: “I hope to enlist you in a very important effort that students, faculty, and staff have been engaged in for some years: protecting and solidifying UVM’s reputation and prestige as an institution with unquestionable academic quality” How can students possibly do this when the very reputation to uphold is riddled with contradictions? “Use the day (April, 20) to send a strong message that this is not what we want to be known for. We can do that by standing together as a community and ending this annual event.” If the general consensus of the students is that they want to end such an event, then they should at least be allowed to put their opinion forth regardless of date or time. Students should be allowed to create the image of their own event by encouraging free speech and not having the image that four-twenty represents to the administration branded on them through President Fogel’s letter. To conclude I would like to reiterate the point that I understand the position the administration is taking is working to ensure a positive reputation of the students, affiliates and alumni. However, the administration has no right to take it upon themselves to unfairly paint the image of what this year’s event stands for, as well as threatening students’ basic rights in the process. There needs to be some consistency, reason and justice involved if you are going to try to ‘smoke out’ such a protest when its main goal is only to voice the protection of civil liberties and standing together. Yet, nobody knows this and a negative image has been projected due to the university’s unwillingness to work with its students. By having the event on campus the event has a greater chance of attracting large amounts of people and allows students to see the power of an open forum to express feeling when fighting for justice. I would like to thank you, President Fogel for showing your concern for the University as well as helping to make the Four-Twenty protest one that does not just use marijuana as its representation for bias, but directly protests the injustice in the very institution they are a part of. In the words of a true American hero “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” Martin Luther King Jr.