by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jay Schalin and Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center offer a generally positive review of the way UNC-Chapel Hill respond to a recent series of protests.
On November 13th, roughly 55 protesters gathered outside a speech by former deputy assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka. The protesters ranged in age from undergraduates to senior citizens. At some point, however, many undergraduate students (mainly female) left; the 30 or so who remained were older, more male, and more “hardcore.” Some belonged to the Democratic Socialists of America and were at times raucous, even menacing.
The following day, about 150 protesters held a rally to demand the removal of a controversial confederate statue known as Silent Sam. As it was erected in honor of fallen Confederate soldiers, many claim that the statue’s mere presence on campus reaffirms racism and white supremacy.
Finally, on Wednesday, November 15th the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees hosted a public forum to allow individuals to “express their thoughts” regarding the monument. The majority of the nearly 30 speakers demanded that the statue be taken down (again deriding the opposition as racists and white supremacists).
Those events raise two major issues. The first is how the university handled the protests: did they maintain order and preserve free speech? The second concerns the character and intentions of the protesters: are they willing, or even capable, of listening to reason? Are they unrealistic or unhinged? Or are they merely looking to cause a commotion?
And, although protesting different issues, it appeared that demonstrators at both the Gorka and Silent Sam events shared a great deal of overlapping arguments and rhetoric. Perhaps there is an underlying political agenda for which Sebastian Gorka and Silent Sam are mere props? And are the protesters representative of the student population as a whole?
As to the first question of how the university handled the protests, it appears that it did extremely well. All three events were almost entirely problem free.