Sunday, May 03, 2009
Tech students need a class in college protests
- A great community needs great leaders
- A fresh vision for downtown Christiansburg
- The Black House will be an eyesore no more
- Del. Yost wants to clean up Virginia's laws
From the RoundTable blog
Tom Tancredo spoke at Virginia Tech on Monday, and there was not a hint of protest, not even a whiff of patchouli. For shame, Hokies.
Young Americans for Freedom invited him. They are a right-wing group with chapters on many college campuses, though this is their first year at Tech. About three dozen people attended.
Tancredo, for those who do not keep track of America's obscure, nativist ex-congressmen, has been traveling the country condemning multiculturalism, immigration and "people who don't want to be Americans." He hails from Colorado and sought the 2008 Republican nomination for president.
Think of him as a slightly less embarrassing, slightly more famous version of Virginia's Virgil Goode.
Typically, when Tancredo shows up on campus, student activists respond. They chant, wave banners and generally make it clear that his views are not universally shared.
Protests have been part of the college experience for centuries, all the way back to medieval European universities. At their best, they encourage the free exchange of ideas and lead to reforms. At their least, they are entertaining to watch.
Any student who graduates having never marched for or against something missed part of his education.
Maybe if protesting were an NCAA event, Hokies would elevate their game. They would need to if they wanted to compete against the Tar Heels. They take their protesting seriously at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- too seriously.
When Tancredo spoke there a few weeks ago, protesters crowded the room, unfurled a banner and threw a brick through a window. Tancredo left without finishing his speech.
Driving a speaker from campus is even more detrimental to free speech than not bothering to show up in the first place. Hokies should not go that far, but surely there is room between silence and silencing for vocal, visual activism.
Were Tech students really so busy or so complacent on Monday that Tancredo could liken President Obama to Adolf Hitler and condemn "the bizarre, twisted irony of the left and the cult of multiculturalism" without sparking some protest?
Two dozen students gathered outside the room in Squires Student Center where Tancredo spoke. They were members of the Virginia Tech Union, which organizes concerts and other events. No protesters there.
A young man at the talk sported long hair, goatee, frayed cargo shorts and a T-shirt. He kept his arms crossed the entire time and looked like just the sort to create a scene.
He did not.
Neither did the young woman who abstained from the Pledge of Allegiance. She left early.
The best anyone managed was a questioner who tried to trick Tancredo into referring to "inferior cultures."
The former congressman did not fall for it.
Things were just as boring at the Democratic gubernatorial debate a few days later. No conservative backers of Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate, rallied outside The Lyric Theatre.
The debate, organized by David Grant, editor of Tech's student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, went off without a hitch. The biggest interruption was someone's cell phone.
A few McDonnell supporters milled around on College Avenue before the show; only small stickers on their shirts revealed their affiliation. They entered the theater and took up position in the back corner with a video camera. Their job apparently was opposition research, not spreading the message.
Where's the fun in that? A zinger video on YouTube lacks live flair.
The college years are a time for young people to be more politically active than the realities of day-to-day adult life allow. You don't need to don tie-dyed clothing and put flowers in National Guardsmen's rifles, but show a little passion.