Editorials

Criticism of Fossil Free undermines free speech

March 26, 2015


On March 18, GU Fossil Free (GUFF) walked on stage during World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s speech about climate change at Gaston Hall to promote their campaign for the university to divest from fossil fuel companies. In Tuesday’s issue of The Hoya, their Editorial Board condemned members of GUFF for their decision to disrupt the speech. They urged GUFF to acknowledge the special status of Gaston Hall as a “respected space” and “to change their methods of advocacy and better create a space for real dialogue.” Comments on The Hoya’s website also criticized the “disgraceful” action that “embarrassed the university.” The Voice’s Editorial Board finds the Georgetown community’s response to GUFF’s action disappointing.

Students have misrepresented GUFF’s actions on stage during the March 18 event. The Hoya’s editorial, for example, chastises the group for “storm[ing] the stage” and “[demonstrating] an unfortunate misappropriation of values and a disrespect.” This is a sensationalized and inaccurate account of what happened. On its website, GUFF described its action as a “banner drop,” and videos of the event show that they did exactly that. They silently unfurled their banner containing the central tenet of their activism. At no point did GUFF interrupt Kim, injure speakers or audience members, knock over audiovisual equipment, or commit any acts of violence. Neither Kim nor the audience made much of a response to GUFF’s respectful exercise of their free speech.

In fact, the disruption GUFF allegedly brought to Kim’s event pales in comparison by far to what happened when General David Petraeus came to Gaston Hall in Jan. 2010, when multiple students rose from their seats during his speech and yelled aloud the names of Iraqi civilians who had died during U.S. actions in Iraq, cutting off whatever Petraeus tried to say.

Gaston Hall is a special space on Georgetown’s campus, but that alone is not a constructive reason to silence activism at this university. It’s no wonder the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education decided to rank this institution as one of the nation’s worst campuses for free speech in 2014.

Activists rely on disruption and civil disobedience to get their messages across; in return, they choose to accept the repercussions, legal or otherwise, of their actions, regardless of whether they believe such repercussions are just. During the March 18 event, GUFF members and Kim engaged in a mutually respectful dialogue about divestment. By the measure of how one conducts civil disobedience, their actions were a success.

By failing to comprehend that GUFF was trying to go beyond the avenues of civil discourse, responses to GUFF’s actions have thus far been condescending and unproductive. Whether one agrees with their ideologies, the Georgetown community should protect free speech without exception.



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Comments 8

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    “During the March 18 event, GUFF members and Kim engaged in a mutually respectful dialogue about divestment. By the measure of how one conducts civil disobedience, their actions were a success.”

    No. What GUFF did was disrespectful, regardless of whether they were acting in a manner consistent with extant free speech protections on campus. The 1st Amendment may enable you to use your speech to be an asshole, but that doesn’t mean you should. I recognize that GUFF doesn’t think they were being a bunch of jerks, but the fact of the matter is that most of the student body does. I bet Jim Kim does too. Is that how you define “success” – alienating the very people GUFF needs to be its base?

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      If we all sat around respectfully watching Georgetown investing in companies complicit in the destruction of the health, livelihood, and environment of front-line communities across the globe, nothing would ever change. We can have as many roundtables as we want, confirming what we know to be true: fossil fuel companies continue to put profit before people as climate change continues to disproportionately ravage the poorest people in the world. Why has peacefully standing up for something so integral to the future of our world become something that shouldn’t be done if it might “disrespect” someone so esteemed as Jim Kim?

      It seems that GU Fossil Free is answering the tremendous disrespect that fossil fuel companies continue to show every day show toward the citizens of the world and their fragile climate, with action. The fossil fuel industry continues to destabilize the world toward ruin, with blatant disregard for the externalities of carbon production. They aren’t evil, just very misguided as to how to appropriately power the world, pushing the costs of climate change on the poorest of our earth. Has standing up to superior institutions of power with peaceful protest really become the past-time of “a bunch of jerks”? You may think so, but I’m willing to bet the Georgetown community does not believe this to be so, as you claim “most of the student body does”

      Is silently standing on a stage with a banner, 15 feet away from a speaker disrespectful? It may not be the most respectful thing to do, but we should not be blind to the realities of the bigger picture. In the words of Frederick Douglas, “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” If we want progress, we have to stand up and be vocal for it. We can’t sit around answering disrespect with respect if it gets us nowhere. We should be focusing on the issue at hand, not on ethically dubious arguments about process.

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        Go bomb energy companies headquarters and power plants then, because I dont think you will see your green Gaia utopia otherwise. The Voice continues to insult everyone’s intelligence.

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          lol you continue to insult everyone’s intelligence.

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        “Has standing up to superior institutions of power with peaceful protest really become the past-time of ‘a bunch of jerks’? You may think so, but I’m willing to bet the Georgetown community does not believe this to be so…”

        OK, point well taken. I don’t have poll numbers or anything like that to conclusively prove GUFF’s banner drop alienated the student body. But, then again, you don’t have the numbers to prove the opposite is true. I’m convinced the culture of apathy on campus works against GUFF; you’re not. I’m convinced GUFF’s militancy (or, at least, the perception of GUFF’s militancy) will prevent it from generating the critical mass they need to force change; you’re not. Oh well.

        “We should be focusing on the issue at hand, not on ethically dubious arguments about process.”

        So, it doesn’t sound like you’re going to be changing tactics anytime soon (I’m assuming you’re in GUFF). Let me know how that works out. I sincerely hope it does, because I want to see this university divest from fossil fuel companies. But I would encourage you to try to overcome your uncompromising let’s-save-the-world complex, so that people like me feel comfortable supporting y’all.

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          Here’s a chance for you then. Getting the university to divest isn’t easy, we need all the help we can get. Given your interest in seeing the university divest from fossil fuel companies, and our need for new voices and new ideas in our discussions, it would be great if you were to get involved. Really, don’t be shy, new people come in all the time. We meet weekly on Tuesday, if you have some time to make Georgetown a better place let us know at gufossilfree@gmail.com
          Thanks!

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    if anyone who disagrees with you is too unintelligent for you then i honestly don’t know how you’re gonna deal with lyfe

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    The headline of this editorial implies the exact opposite of the editorial’s content.