So Chris Simcox gave a lecture at Boise State University, but he definitely didn’t control the event nor the debate (nor did the College Republicans for that matter!). Although we only had about 48 hours to organize ourselves, we managed to pack the room with our people; we must have had at least 85% of the room from the Boise State Cultural Center and MEChA in particular.
Before the event we created t-shirts that said “Not on Our Campus” on one side and on the back we each put different slogans. Mine said “Illegal Immigration Began in 1492.) We cut out black bandannas from sheets of cloth and we put them around our mouths. The idea was that our civil disobedience would be a visible silent protest. But by packing the room we also disabled him from speaking to a wider or like-minded audience, which was great.
Before we went in the Boise police and the building manager for the student union came in to speak to us about civil disobedience on campus. We were told that if we did anything that was deemed disruptive by the College Republicans or by the student union building staff, we would be removed; if we refused to leave, we would be arrested. One of the things that could be constituted as disruptive, according to this man, was our clothing and our bandannas. I found this especially interesting: we could be kicked out of a student building, which student tuition fees fund, as a result of wearing t-shirts and bandannas as a form of fee speech that is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Obviously as I have written here and elsewhere, I am not an absolutist when it comes to freedom of expression. I do think there should be limits, especially on hate speech, but I do not believe that civil disobedience should be limited–especially when that civil disobedience is in support of human rights. Ironically, I kicked a student out of the Cultural Center at Boise State a few years ago for wearing a Ku Klux Klan emblem on his jacket (the Cultural Center, which used to be known as the Multiethnic Cultural Center until they were forced by the administration to be more open to other students and thus forced to change their name) because he was wearing it in the one safe space on campus for students of color and international students. I was reprimanded at the highest levels of this university (i.e., by the President). And yet somehow the student union manager seemed to think that it was okay for us to be thrown out for wearing t-shirts that expressed values of human rights (t-shirts, I might add, that were printed and given to us by the ASBSU–the student government body).
We were also told that there might be circumstances under which we would be removed for disrupting the event. Again, ironically, one of the College Republicans kept physically harassing (i.e., touching) one of the MEChA students, yet he was just asked to move his chair; he was not forced to leave. Clearly there is a double standard here for the rules applied to white people and the rules applied to brown people.
In the end we came out strong as we took control of the debate once Simcox finished speaking. He altered his usual hate rhetoric to mask his work, much like President Bush (i.e., for Bush “no child left behind” = all children left behind, or “healthy forests” = chop down all the trees). But during the discussion students were armed with facts, were strong, and made it clear who he really is and what he really stands for. Of course the College Republicans found these facts to be laughable. And Chris Simcox called the Southern Poverty Law Center “the number one hate group in America” (irony of all ironies!). But in the end the students from the Cultural Center felt empowered, which I think is one of the best outcomes of the event.