Questionable Protest Practices

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This letter is a response to the protest of Ari Fleischer inside Mead Chapel on Sunday evening, October 13th.

At around 7:15 on Sunday evening, I was happy to have been one of the last people to gain entry into Mead Chapel to hear Ari Fleischer speak. I sat down in the last row, and I was interested in seeing what form the anti-Bush protests would take. I was equally excited to hear what the accomplished, well-respected White House Press Secretary would have to say.

When Ari Fleischer took the stage at 8:00, I watched the back section of the chapel erupt with anger and resentment for the speaker. For a moment I felt like I was at a baseball game, watching the opponents walk out onto the field, and getting ready to order my first hot dog.

Mr. Fleischer’s speech began, and over the next twenty minutes or so, he was repeatedly interrupted by shouts of “You’re a war criminal!” and “You’re murdering innocent people!” Several of these aggressive protestors were removed due to their outbursts, and they ended up missing the informative question and answer session that concluded Mr. Fleischer’s presentation.

While these individuals yelled arrogantly throughout the course of the speech, I became highly irritated. They were not only showing a lack of respect for our guest, but also preventing me from hearing what the press secretary had to say. I had come to Mead Chapel to hear Mr. Fleischer speak about his life, his job, and whatever issues were to be raised about Iraq, and instead, I was being forced to listen to the views of some nearby protestors.

I don’t think I am alone when I say that I did not appreciate such an encroachment on my “freedom to listen” (in President McCardell’s own words), which accompanies my freedom of speech.

Additionally, I think if I had been protesting Ari Fleischer, I would have wanted to hear what he had to say, given him a chance to say it, and then voiced my own personal opinion on the matter.

It seems hypocritical to speak obstructively over another individual, refuse to listen to him, and not let him voice his own thoughts while simultaneously claiming, “This is what democracy looks like.” In observing a group of people forcefully trying to impose their will on another individual, I would be more inclined to declare, “This is what fascism looks like.”

Of course, I understand many citizens are concerned about a possible invasion of Iraq, and I think they did well to stand outside the chapel and petition for peace. I found it ill-mannered and ill-advised, however, to shout rudely at Ari Fleischer while he was trying to explain his job and to accept an award. I like to think of Middlebury College as a respectful, dignified institution, and I was embarrassed to witness such a violent disruption in the face of an honored alumnus.

Submitted by Jeff Kauflin.