Professional immigrant-bashing shut down at public university
Posted by raleighfist on April 29, 2009
By Yolanda Carrington, Scott Williams and Ben Carroll
members of Raleigh-Durham FIST
Chapel Hill, N.C.
On April 14, right-wing racist and anti-immigrant bigot Tom Tancredo came to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to speak at a forum hosted by the newly formed Youth for Western Civilization. The ex-Colorado congressperson is on a countrywide tour
of college campuses, bringing his message of anti-immigrant hysteria to students across the country. The YWC is a right-wing, anti-immigrant organization that has been identified as a white supremacist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While Tancredo’s racist speeches have been challenged by students before, nothing in the ex-congressperson’s career could have prepared him for t
he fiercely loud and principled stand taken by UNC students on April 14. More than 300 protesters from various student organizations showed up at Bingham Hall to give a strong denunciation of Tancredo, YWC and everything that these xenophobic reactionaries stand for.
Around 100 protesters converged outside the event shortly before it began, chanting, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots go away!” Within minutes the police attacked the demonstration, throwing several protesters to the ground, pepper-spraying nearly a dozen students, and threatening people with Taser guns. Less than five minutes into Tancredo’s white supremacist diatribe, the overwhelming opposition to Tancredo and the YWC led to the event being shut down.
The response to the protest by the corporate media and university administrators has been libelous and one-sided. The Raleigh News and Observer published an editorial in which it condemned the students for “silencing” Tancredo and violating his “right” to free speech, comparing the students’ principled action to North Carolina’s McCarthy-era “Speaker Ban” law that barred communist sympathizers and other “subversives” from speaking at any UNC system campus. UNC System President Erskine Bowles, UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp and UNC Board of Trustees Chairman Roger Perry all officially telephoned the hate-mongering Tancredo to apologize. Both administrators and corporate media outlets have unquestionably supported the police terrorizing and demonizing of student activists.
The role of the media and the business leaders of public institutions in a capitalist society is to delegitimize protests against the ruling class. Under capitalist society, universities exist to reproduce a particular set of social relations, and treat “free speech” as an abstract concept. What is missed by any debate in this context is the very real implications. Tancredo is not simply traveling around to engage in intellectual debates. He is an organizer attempting to consolidate a movement. He provides political support to right-wing Minutemen militia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and U.S. policies of deportation, concentration camp-like detention centers, and a whole system that rakes in superprofits from the 12 million people working in this country without rights.
Students at UNC have pushed hate speech off campus before. In 1975 David Duke, then a national leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was shouted down and scared off the stage by a group of about 200 Black students. He had been invited to speak but was drowned out by shouts of “Power to the people!” The incident sparked a fierce debate about “free speech” on campus. Then-Chancellor Ferebee Taylor called Duke being chased off campus “a transgression of one of the highest and noblest traditions of this institution.” A review of the articles in the campus newspaper from the days and weeks following the Duke visit is strikingly similar to the climate after Tancredo’s speech.
Following the Tancredo speech, the YWC had the audacity to invite yet another right-wing bigot to campus the next week—former Virginia representative Virgil Goode, who promotes the same anti-immigrant scapegoating and racism as Tancredo. University administrators and police went out of their way to accommodate and protect Goode against attempts by protesters to speak against his message of hate and racism.
Outraged by the presence of another right-wing political figure on campus, a coalition of groups organized a separate forum and speak-out against racism, near where Goode was speaking. Other community members decided to go into the event to protest. Six were arrested on the spot for booing and holding signs denouncing Goode’s message.
The arrests come during an intense campaign of repression that is being carried out by university administrators and campus police in the aftermath of the Tancredo demonstration. Campus police have been harassing student activists, showing up outside of classrooms and trying to interrogate people involved in the demonstrations. Nine days after the Tancredo protests, police arrested one student on charges of “disturbing the peace in an educational institution,” a baseless, trumped up charge.
Students and community members are speaking out against police harassment and intimidation of activists. Protesters involved in both demonstrations, along with other student and community supporters, have formed the UNC Protesters Defense Committee to push back against police and university repression. The Defense Committee is calling for all charges to be dropped against the seven who have been charged in connection with both demonstrations; the formation of a permanent, independent board comprised of students, workers and faculty to investigate the recent actions of the campus police and any actions in the future; and an immediate end to the campaign of repression against student activists.
During this time of economic crisis, it is more important than ever to speak out against the racism of Tancredo and the YWC, who are attempting to scapegoat immigrants for the current crisis and whose white supremacist ideology presents a reactionary danger to all working people. With support flowing in from around the country, students are emboldened now more than ever to continue to wage this struggle against racism and police repression.