Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Musings on Jack and the SMU Fiasco

Hi friends. So I didn't blog last week - sorry about that. I am struggling out of my winter funk right now and trying to get back into the activism swing of things. Last week's clinic was ok; still some very vocal female protesters, which is such a nuisance. This week (ie yesterday) we didn't have clinic, so I can only hope that the protesters were out in vain. Although it isn't that cold so it's no biggie.

I went to see Jack Layton speak at the Wu Centre a couple nights ago. It was pretty good. There was a much bigger crowd than had been planned for, which was a bit annoying because no one had set up an overflow room or anticipated in the slightest that they might attract more than 150 people. Oh, Fredericton. Anyway, Jack was speaking about what to do about the economy, and looking for ideas and suggestions from us common folk. He's a good speaker and there were no nutbars or anything, so it was good.

I've got a lot of feminist stuff going on right now that I'm very excited about. There will be an International Women's Day potluck brunch here in Fredericton on March 8th - contact me if you want more details. It should be awesome; at least two groups I belong to are co-sponsoring, so I'll be there co-repping. :)

I did want to blog about the whole campus pro-life thing, at the University of Calgary, and the GAP event shut down at Saint Mary's in Halifax. I feel like it's all been blogged to death, though. And now that I sit down to write about it, I'm not sure how I feel. The first issue, of student unions refusing to fund pro-life groups on campus, seems pretty straightforward to me. Student unions are allowed to choose to fund any groups they want - that's their prerogative. Groups can still exist, but no group is entitled to funding. I'm not sure how people think this is a freedom of speech issue.

The other one is not so clear to me. In case you missed it, the horrible Centre for Bioethical Reform had a speaker go to Saint Mary's - I guess he was booked by the campus pro-life group there. Well, during his speech he was shouted down by pro-choice protesters, and things got ugly enough that the campus security/police shut the event down (it was moved to a nearby church). I feel like the police did the right thing; after all, a threat to public safety is a threat to public safety. And I believe in the protesters' right to do what they did. Free speech goes both ways, after all. I just don't know if it's what I would have done.

It makes me wonder about what the best way is to show dissent in a situation like that. Certainly their actions were good in that they got the speaker off campus. But might it have been more productive to just go to the presentation and ask some thought-provoking questions? Or some other kind of protest, like standing up and turning their backs? I don't know. I've been wondering a lot lately about effective forms of protest, and whether some things are even worth doing at all. It's kind of a depressing train of thought.

Anyway, kudos to Halifax Pro-Choice for being gutsy and representin'.


Anonymous said...

Hi pedgehog,

Nice to see you posting again. I wanted to chime in on your UofC comments, as my understanding of what happened is different from yours: my understanding is that the student group not only had their funding taken away, but their status as a recognized student group. The second issue that makes me see this as a freedom of expression case is that the university's lawyer has apparently stated that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (and thus the right to free expression) does not apply on university campuses.

Regarding effective protest of speech that is offensive but has the right to exist, I wish I had an answer.


Amy O said...

What about throwing condoms at people and then driving away?

Anonymous said...

The anti-abortion group at the University of Calgary told the administration that its display "would likely provoke violence" and then refused to position the posters inward as they were subsequently asked to do. The group's own letter is on its web site. This was a safety issue and not a free speech issue. The student union then sanctioned the group for defying this university regulation, which it had every right to do.

As for how to deal with GAP, going and asking questions is a bad idea. GAP is based on provoking pro-choice people and is ineffective without their presence at such events. The speakers have been trained with specific responses and entirely rely on people being opposed to their ideas and what they do. So, you just do GAP a favour by trying to have some kind of exchange.

On the other hand, shouting them down (while understandable) just gives GAP lots of publicity, which is exactly what the GAP campaign is designed to create, so again it plays into GAP's hands.

The best way was discovered by the University of British Columbia pro-choice group, which is informed whenever GAP will be present on campus, staging an effective, silent, counter display (which gives people another option and diffuses potential violence).

Another strategy is to explain how ridiculous GAP is and to discuss its strategy either before or after some kind of GAP display or talk (perhaps during if people can avoid becoming angry). GAP is easily dismissed, and has been dismissed by many people, including many anti-abortion people and church officials.

The anti-abortion movement in general thrives on confrontation, relies for its identity on pro-choice people's reactions, and yearns for press of any kind. How to resist anti-abortion efforts without reinforcing these goals remains a challenge. [to all anti-abortion readers, notice I said the movement, not specific individuals such as yourself. Please remain calm.]

Stout Man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I have to second what feministincowboyboots said, I live in Calgary and have been following the story with interest ever since it appeared in the news. I have seen it reported many times that the issue was not of their display initially, it was that they were requested to turn the signs inward -- not just because of possibly provoking violence, but such graphic images were sure to distress some people passing by if not all. We are talking graphic images and comparisons of abortion to the holocaust, and other such things. Insensitive to those who may have had an abortion at the very least.
At any rate, when they refused to turn the signs inward (they were not asked to move, to stop, to take them down, or anything of the sort initially) the University took action. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about their funding and status as a student group being taken away, I would have to look more into what they actually did as a student group before I would feel comfortable having an opinion on that. Maybe not even then.

At any rate, I think the facts of the case point out that (initially at least) this wasn't even about limiting free speech on campus. I firmly disagree that turning such potentially disturbing images inward so that instances of people viewing them not by choice are reduced is a way of limiting free speech, since they were still allowed to remain right where they were and preach their message all they wanted. The University was acting on complaints from people going by and being disturbed by the images, surely this was a reasonable request?