On the evening of Oct. 19th, former Vice President Mike Pence came to Georgetown’s campus to speak to young political minds about the future of conservatism, as well as answer student questions. Not all in attendance decided to tolerate his words and presence.
The GU Politics event with Pence, called “The Future of the Conservative Movement,” was interrupted by a walkout orchestrated by Georgetown students. About ten minutes into Pence’s opening speech a group of roughly fifty students locked arms and exited Gaston Hall together to protest on the steps of Healy Hall. The group, coordinated by Sanchi Rohira (SFS ’24), and Carrie McDonald (COL ’24), had planned days in advance to mobilize a group, create posters, and prepare for a collective walkout.
Organizers said the protest was planned mainly to show that Pence’s views on a number of issues are not welcome at Georgetown.
“Our protest against Mike Pence was not about Mike Pence. It was about being there for each other as a community on the night that our university decided to invite this man, to legitimize this man on the stage of Gaston Hall,” Rohira said.
The group spent the following hour and fifteen minutes on the steps of Healy Hall, engaging in chanting and making speeches to the masses watching, including the Pence event attendees as they exited the event. As students quietly exited during the walkout, Pence criticized their actions and said that they were “walking out on people who might have a different point of view.”
Protestors cited Pence’s stances on reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights for why they met the event with enthusiastic rejection and protest, noting that his politics are harmful to queer and female students. Pence has put forth legislation that allows businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals and declared in a recent Republican event a commitment to make abortion “unthinkable”.
“It is clear to me that Mike Pence is more actively ideological about rolling back reproductive rights, about systematically pressing queer people than Donald Trump ever has been,” Rohira said to the Voice.
“Mike Pence said he was a follower of Jesus,” Nikash Harapanahalli (SFS ’24) said in a speech to the group. “I’m not a Christian, but nowhere in the Bible does it say to go after the gays.”
Throughout the following protest students periodically addressed the group making speeches and leading chants. Chants included, “Whose Georgetown?/ Our Georgetown” and “Screw Mike Pence.” Some students held signs reading “Georgetown, protect Queer Studies,” and “Hate has no home here.” Many waved LGBTQ+ flags.
A protest took place inside the walls of Gaston Hall after the walkout, too. Students held a banner reading: “LGBTQ+ Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights,” on the balcony of Gaston Hall for the entirety of Pence’s opening speech.
The Pence event was co-coordinated by Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization that frequently plans events on college campuses and was moderated by Mo Elleithee, the executive director of GU Politics.
Protest planning began after GU politics announced the event on October 6th via email. Rohira and McDonald decided to rally others around the feeling that a message had to be sent to both Pence and the University for welcoming him to speak. The organizers and others printed 800 flyers pointing out Pence’s anti-LGBTQ+ views to distribute while in line for the event.
Protestors made clear that the walkout was not about a lack of willingness to engage with those across the aisle, rather that they were disappointed that the University would choose to platform someone who they believe doesn’t view queer people and women as fully deserving of rights or respect.
“Of course, we all understand the importance of free speech and of bipartisanship and of showing all sides of an argument,” Soraya Bata (SFS ’24), a protester who helped hold the banner inside Gaston Hall, said in an interview with the Voice. “What we’re contesting is that it’s unacceptable to be racist, to be homophobic, to be xenophobic, to use rhetoric that promotes violence such as replacement theory, which [are things] that Pence has engaged in a lot.”
Pence arrived at campus one year and nine months after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol to contest the results of the 2020 Presidential election–an election he and his running mate former President Donald Trump lost. Pence condemned the violence that took place, as he pointed out in response to a student question.
During the event, Pence spoke mainly about his life as a Christian and his entrance into the conservative movement. He expressed that former President Ronald Reagan was his “idol,” and that “freedom is under attack like never before” to claps and cheering from pockets of students within the hall.
Much of his talk also centered on the future of the Republican Party. When asked to look ahead at the upcoming Presidential election in 2024 and if he would vote for Donald Trump should he run again, he said “there might be somebody else I’d prefer more” to laughter from some students.
That comedic sentiment was not shared by the protesting students.
“Freedom for Mike Pence, freedom for Young America’s Foundation, is freedom for the most privileged,” Brandon Wu (SFS ’24), a protestor, said in a speech to the group. “We are standing here together united under the idea that if we want freedom for the most marginalized communities, it is not through the conservative movement, it comes from us.”
As students left the event after Pence was finished, many gathered to observe the protest. Some laughed and made derogatory and violent statements about the protestors. In the hours following the demonstration, several protestors experienced harassment—including being called slurs—by students on campus. One person infiltrated the GroupMe and sent multiple unsolicited sexual images. Despite these verbal and digital attacks, student protestors felt it was important to be there.
“It wasn’t something that we could just allow, let Mike Pence dominate,” Wu added. “We couldn’t just let Mike Pence and his accompanying sponsoring foundation just run the narrative that Georgetown is a campus that accepts Mike Pence’s conservative ideas, which is just fundamentally not true, given those ideas are bigoted.”