please forward widely...
FREE SPEECH UNDER ATTACK AT UIUC
RSO threatened by university library staff for distributing anti-war material (see details below)
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
-We need your support in order to help expand the amount of space available for registered student organizations (RSOs), campus unions, and Champaign-Urbana community members to table on campus.
-We wish to see the upper level of the Undergraduate Library Atrium Plaza made available for tabling and distributing literature and information.
-If you or your organization is interested in lending your support, please reply to Martin Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to bring to your attention a serious problem at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and that is the issue of free speech and the management of dissent on campus.
On December 8, our REGISTERED student organization (RSO), the International Socialist Organization, set up a table to pass out anti-war literature. In particular, we were organizing for a national mobilization against the war in Washington DC on January 27 (details here: http://www.unitedforpeace.org/
Due to the frigid weather, including wind chill levels below zero, we moved inside the top level of the Undergrad Library atrium plaza. This area is ideal for student organizations, as it is a space that is not utilized, open, and heavily trafficked. The actual entrance to the library is downstairs, a location clearly demarcated with electronic sensors to monitor for books that are uncharged.
Within 5 minutes of our setting up our small card table with signs that read "Bring the Troops Home Now" and "Money for Jobs and Education Not for War and Occupation," a library staff person came upstairs to inform us that we were violating university policy. At this point, our group made a decision to take a stand. We refused to leave.
We were then informed that the campus security would be called on us for our "actions." When I made my case to the library staff member that we were not impeding access to the library entrance which is downstairs, I was simply informed--"CAMPUS POLICY." When I asked why Expresso Royale, a coffee cart, was able to operate a booth outside the library and profit off of students and yet we were unable to pass out anti-war literature, I was told again--"CAMPUS POLICY." When I reminded the library staff person that I had previously written letters to both the RSO, Library, and University Reservations staff about changing their restrictive "free speech" policy and providing more areas for RSOs on campus to distribute literature during the winter months, having brought no positive change, I heard once again--"CAMPUS POLICY."
CHANGE "CAMPUS POLICY!"
As long as our government is engaged in an illegal and immoral war in which more than 655,000 Iraqis have died, according to the British medical journal the Lancet, than we have a responsibility to express our dissent in this country, including on the UIUC campus. We live during times that call for extreme actions due to the extreme crimes against humanity being waged against the Iraqi people. We are faced with a government that is continuing policies in our name that are flagrant violations of international law and human rights. If our organization was not in the correct "free speech zone" as we attempted to raise our voices against the war--than so be it.
We believe that our group was targeted not just because we were in the incorrect "free speech area," but because the administrator did not like our message.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
Our organization had a permit to table at the Student Union entrance on this cold and chilly day; however, we chose the Library Plaza entrance site instead for good reason.
Currently, there is only ONE indoor area in which RSOs may table and distribute literature AND ONLY WITH A PERMIT. That location is the Student Union foyer. In this area, there are three booths and according to the staff of the RSO office, students must remain behind the booths at all times.
This is problematic for several reasons. One, the Student Union entrance is an "echo chamber," and it is thus very difficult to have clear and thoughtful discussions with people whom we meet. Two, students should not be restricted behind the booths which are located nearly twenty feet from the main traffic in and out of the building. It is nearly impossible to actually engage in conversations and garner the attention of passersby behind these booths. Three, and most important, a school with a student population of over 40,000 should provide more than three booths and ONE INDOOR SPACE for "free speech" on its campus, particularly when winter temperatures are frequently below freezing.
WHAT NEXT?--YOUR HELP IS NEEDED!
We hope that the University staff will revisit their "campus policy." The university must take seriously its commitment to the free exchange and diversity of ideas. The actions by library staff to stifle free speech in an area that does not impede the business or functionings of the university should be viewed as chilling reminders of the times in which we live.
Several weeks ago, a student was tasered by police at the UCLA library for not carrying his university ID (watch video footage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g7zlJx9u2E
). The Patriot Act authorizes the government to spy on and track our library records. Moreover, the management of dissent on college campuses means that we now have only ONE indoor area of "free speech" on the entire University of Illinois campus in which RSOs can table and distribute literature--AND ONLY WITH A PERMIT. THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!
If you are interested in requesting that the University allow more indoor "free speech zones" for RSOs and other non-registered clubs/groups as well, please contact Martin Smith at: email@example.com
Our voices of dissent must not be "managed" but should ring loud and clear against the injustices and inhumanity committed by our government.
Until every troop returns from Iraq--RAISE YOUR VOICE IN DISSENT!
Martin Smith, PhD Candidate, History