The Newt is Protested

Newt Gingrich came to speak here at UVM on October 6th, 2005. An hour before the event, a group of protesters gathered, in a planned rally, outside of Ira Allen Chapel (the site of the talk). Most of the group was involved with Students Against War, a group here on campus. They were mostly UVM students, although there were a few students from Johnson State College. The group started by making its signs and preparing chants. “This event is a waste of $42,000,” Eli Witman, a UVM freshman said. The protesters would cite this figure throughout the night. It was an estimate based on Gingrich’s previous-similar engagements. Witman proposed that this money should be going to pay for tuition of students in need of financial assistance or to increasing professors’ salaries. These protesters found Gingrich’s stances on such topics as women’s rights (including abortion) and homosexuality very disagreeable. “He is so opposed to women’s rights on many levels,” said Meredith Kalman, a UVM Graduate student. She said she disagrees strongly with Gengrich’s anti-abortion stance. The University of Vermont has taken a lot of steps to promote a safe space for homosexuals, and some of the protestors found Ginrich’s presence to be in conflict with this idea. “Homosexuals are the moral equivalents of alcoholics,” John Mcdona wrote on his picket sign. He called this statement, which he said that Gingrich made, “disgusting.” As the rally commensed with the group chanting and waving its signs, some supporters of Gingrich looked on. As the protestors chanted about diversity, Bennet, a UVM sophomore and Republican who preferred to not give a last name, said, referring to the protesters, “They want every diversity except intellectual diversity.” As for the money issue, he said, “You have to pay people for their service. It’s not rocket science.” Bennet also stated, “It’s kind of comic relief,” referring to the protestors. Another UVM sophomore Republican, Tom, said that the protestors were relying on taking Gingrich’s statements out of context. And in regard to the money issue, he characterized the funding effort as a product of the UVM College Republicans’ hard work. He said that much of the money came from independent corporate sponsors, and that the protestors were unaware of this. “The people protesting should pay five dollars and listen Gingrich speak so they have an informed opinion. It would be ignorant not to,” Bennet said right before the Gingrich talk got under way. About half of the protesters did go into the event. Four were UVM students and three were from Johnson State College. Gingrich, in his talk, didn’t really touch upon a lot of the issues the protestors were out to address. He talked a lot about scientific advancement and emergency response. He touched upon abortion only while saying (in response to a student question about his stance on stem cell research) that he was for stem cell research except if the stem cells are from an aborted fetus. After the event, the rally continued. It got a bit heated at one point when a man walked and grabbed at one of the protester’s sign. They exchanged some words and the man walked on. “I thought Gingrich was amazing. He was eloquent and a great speaker,” Frederick Velanta, a UVM freshman said after the event as he stood watching the protesters hold signs such as, “Go home Newt,” and, “Newt: as slimy as ever.”