Violating du Lac with PSA, ROTC and fans
Think, Question, Resist
Today I participated in an unregistered demonstration at Notre Dame. Yes, I violated du Lac. If only students could be free on campus without breaking such rules!
The right to gather and advocate for a cause is critical for the existence of freedom at our University, however it like other essential activist tactics (petitioning, forming an organization, postering, club trips, etc.), is sharply compromised by the policies of the University administration.
I will attempt to demonstrate that the University, acting so as to preserve its control of campus (at the expense of students who wish we were free), on behalf of conservative multimillion dollar donors and trustees whose values the administrators often share, displays a clear bias against progressive demonstrations. Most of the bias comes from the arbitrary nature in which it defines "demonstration."
Let us imagine a dozen students dressed in similar fashion, jogging through campus. Not only are they chanting, but two of them, hands-outstretched, stop traffic at the Main Circle. Now, let us imagine a second group of four students without signs, amplification or any speakers, looking more like ushers than activists, quietly passing out pieces of paper to people going into the JACC. Which of these groups is demonstrating?
Of course if you are an administrator there is a missing variable. You cannot decide whether either of these events is a demonstration until you know the intent of the group. For the acts of progressives are demonstrations, whereas those of conservatives or moderates are not.
Thus the first activity by ROTC advocating values of leadership, discipline and militarism, is not a "demonstration." The second event, progressives passing out leaflets criticizing the University's lack of action on sweatshops is not only a "demonstration" but also caused the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) to be put on probation.
I hope it is clear to most readers what would happen if progressives were to march or jog around campus chanting pacifist, anti-sweatshop or other critical slogans (not to mention blocking traffic!). It would be treated as a demonstration and the activists could lose their club status.
The administration requires that demonstrations be registered so as to directly stop demonstrations. They have prevented GLND/SMC, the College Democrats and the PSA from holding protests. Indirectly, the rule discourages demonstrations by requiring approval from Bill Kirk — a process that only several students on campus have ever used.
I propose that the requirement for registration be eliminated and that the organizers of any demonstration be held responsible for the event post-hoc. If anyone was planning a sit-in or other mildly disruptive protest, they would be smart and not try to register it in advance — so the rule is useless.
Of the 55 "demonstrations" that I have known in the past three years (based on the Student Activities definition which includes leafletting and other events by progressives but excludes any action by ROTC or sports fans), all have been peaceful. Protesters can police ourselves. Of these demonstrations, 40 were unregistered and only two of these led to Student Activities taking action to punish the rule-breakers.
So what is a demonstration? Last semester during the Presidential Review of the ROTC we were told to stand for the anthem and I instinctively sat-down. I was expressing my preference for God before country, but was I demonstrating? I often wear political t-shirts to advocate for causes and always wear several political buttons on my backpack. Is that a demonstration? What if 10 people were to sit-down or wear a shirt or buttons?
Groups of people are allowed to assemble on campus to advocate mainstream causes like violent sports (football fans), militarism (ROTC) or traditional Catholicism — but if a couple people were to dare to leaflet on a progressive cause we would be sent to see the new Director of Student Activities. Mainstream activities are tolerated, while progressive activities are treated as demonstrations. The University's biased enforcement supports the status quo. However as Christians we are called to act on behalf of the poor. In an institution with a three billion dollar endowment that is governed by CEO trustees and is focused on educating America's future corporate and military elite, living the truth of the Gospel necessitates immoderate action and for this you can be punished.
I violated du Lac, but it never crossed the mind of my fellow unregistered demonstrators that they were breaking a rule until I mentioned it. They felt in their hearts that their acts were very peaceful and made sense. And they did. But unfortunately from experience I know that any group that becomes too threatening to the administration can be targeted and unfairly punished. It's time for students to stand-up, demand freedom on campus and rewrite du Lac.
Perhaps as a start, if the rule does not change and ROTC students continue to violate du Lac with unregistered demonstrations (not to mention all the dorm processions before pep rallies!), then we should violate the rule too. Together we'll create a campus that welcomes all views.
Despite being recently attacked by a squirrel who knocked his glasses off, Aaron Kreider is still a vegan. His column runs every other Monday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, September 4, 2000