‘Free speech’ a fuzzy notion, even outside OU

By Amanda Sledz
February 13, 2002
Athens Insider: column


Let me lay the groundwork for you:

Ohio University is at present being sued by Brother Jed and Co. for an arrest that took place two years ago that Jed and his disciples claim violated their free speech rights. At the same time, the university is defending itself against Ben Mallory on the ground that Jeanine Woodruff was merely exercising her free speech rights when she said less-than-stellar things about Mallory in a newspaper article.

Pan to the students, who gathered together some troops for a rally and were then forced to move from the Civil War monument to West Portico because their original site was not in one of the university’s “free speech zones.” The first couple of students who spoke at the rally ranted about this move. Then some folks that spoke later encouraged those who hear a queer joke on the street to “say something to that person to make them stop.” Then the university organized a meeting so they could discuss the free-speech zones, and about ten students showed. In the course of the meeting, one of the students present alluded to the fact that other students “didn’t want to get up that early.” Those that did show up, for the most part, strolled in around 10:25 a.m. The meeting started at 10.

Now plan to the uninformed, who are utterly irritated about students being upset about on-campus assaults, as an illusion of safety is regularly fostered by an administration uncomfortable with our rape stats and hate crimes. The Post came out on behalf of the uninformed to trumpet their uninformed trumpet by running an editorial stating that they thought it was a poopie idea for students to walk out of classes, because it’s disrespectful to professors and “disrupts the learning process.” This is operating under the assumption that there is nothing to be learned from a rally, and that no professors supported the walkout, which I’m sure plenty of them did.

Last time I checked, protests are something to voice dissent for an unfortunate occurrence, a bad policy, etc. It’s not supposed to be scheduled around Seinfeld, or even a class. And for God’s sake, this is college. You can decide whether or not you want to attend class. You won’t get a detention.

This entire mess is irritating on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin.

The first point of irritation comes from the university suggesting a different location. But what can you say when the students agreed? This really ends here – though it wouldn’t have if the students had refused. Then the administration would have gotten into a situation where they would have had to make a decision about arresting students, and that’s what I call a headline.

When the students expressed disgust about the idea of free speech zones, (even though sooe of them don’t encourage it among people that disagree with them), university officials did their part and held a meeting about it. Almost no one was there. Apparentl free speech is only important in the afternoon. This issue is a constitutional issue, and if someone wants to limit your speech, damn it, take it back. If the university does not return those rights upon request, then sue them the way Brother Jed is suing them. Our lessons on the limits of free speech will come soon enough, courtesy of the Anti-Terrorist Act. We don’t need to learn them prematurely.

The man likely to bring the free speech issue to a head is one Mr. Brother Jed, who perhaps has more to teach university activists than most would care to admit. While I agree with absolutely nothing the man has to say, he is among the most brilliant discordians I’ve ever had the privilege to witness. He builds crowds that rival the uptown daylight-savings time fiascoes, and he doesn’t even have to give anyone beer. He angers people that have never been angered by anything they’ve read in newspapers, who couldn’t give a fat crap about the environment, or politics, or anything in between. He fires up the apathetic people – for God’s sake, the people that have memorized the entire second season of the Brady Bunch – and he gets them to paint decorative signs and yell at him to the point of tears. He’ll never change his mind, he’s got it all figured out, so he’s prepared to return every argument blow by blow. He rolls into town, tousles everyone’s world and then just when people are about to explode, he leaves and they are still talking about him for weeks. People don’t get this excited about pro-wrestling, let alone politics. This man is a prophet of chaos. He gets attention and holds it. Anyone see the lesson?

So how can university activists get the kind of attention he gets, to the point where issues are memorized and students study how to debate them?

Form your own security patrol to cover the bottom of Jeff Hill, where women have been raped in the past and beaten in the not-so-distant past, and because women will be raped and beaten there again if something isn’t done to make the area more secure. As thrilling as the university’s bush-trimming plan from a few years ago was, apparently it hasn’t made much difference. Inform the U that your rogue band of feminist enforcers intend to perform their own variety of arrest until the area is better lit and frequently patrolled. Let prospective students know about the existence of your safety patrol by following them along tours.

Have one student lie down near the bottom of Jeff Hill to represent every person that has been raped or attacked there. Hold midnight scream-a-thons to represent the unanswered cries for help. Occupy Cutler Hall and have lengthy conversations with the administrators about your uncle Harry until something is done to guarantee the safety of every student.

Have an “ask a queer” assembly, where people who are uncomfortable with queer folk can come and ask whatever questions they want without being judged. And if the university is going to require women to take a class about birth control, then by golly they ought to require men to take a class about what rape is, how to ignore your idiot peer group, and the importance of supporting your fellow human beings.

If the university wants to do something, Glidden should come out of his office more than once a year and talk to the students. Then maybe students can feel like the administration is interested in their needs –
Their real needs, and not just rumors they hear through some anointed student representative appointed to agree with university officials about damn near everything. It would be nice to see some students chillin’ on the green, eating a PB&J with Glidden and some other officials, just for kicks.

And while you’re at it, brush your teeth on Glidden’s front porch. Dress up like George W. Bush and appoint passing individuals to either the evil axis or the a-okay axis. Paint your entire nude body read, whit and blue, and if you are arrested for indecent exposure, accuse the arresting part of being unpatriotic. Set up a tent in the middle of the green and decide that you’ll sleep there until the university can build an apartment complex without the aid of underpaid illegal Mexican workers and children.

The students on OU’s campus can reclaim their speech if they want it, and they can use that speech to highlight how little has been done since the last hate crimes/violence-against-women walkout in 1998. They’ve already done the talking part – now comes the action part. A lot more can be done by knocking on the door, and if that doesn’t work, kicking it down – instead of waiting for someone to hold it open.

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