About 60 protesters gathered in front of Booth’s Harper Center last Friday to protest professor Luigi Zingales’s invitation of Stephen Bannon. A dozen counter-protesters were also present at the rally, which began at 3 p.m.
Several outside organizations joined UChicago student RSOs at the protest, including Refuse Fascism, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Global Majority Youth Rising.
Protesters chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, fascists are not welcome here!” and held signs which read “shut down white supremacy” and “more gargoyles, fewer trolls.” Counter-protesters across the street held a Trump “Make America Great Again” flag, the Israeli flag, and a “don’t tread on me” banner.
Protesters did not seem to view Zingales’s invitation of Bannon as a free speech issue, but, rather, as a message to minority members of the UChicago and South Side communities that their freedom and safety is less of a priority for the University than right-wing provocateurs.
Ph.D. candidate Chaz Lee, a member of Graduate Students United and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, expressed frustration with the way the University, according to him, prioritizes free speech for outside right-wing figures over that of others.
“Obviously, Steve Bannon’s views and the politics and movements he represents are in direct conflict with our mission for a more just, equitable, and inclusive campus. We don’t view this as a question of free speech, but rather as a question of privileging and amplifying certain voices over others,” Lee said.
“In our view, true free speech can only happen when all students, staff, and faculty are free to not only voice their opinions but also to feel that they are part of the campus community.”
The counter-protesters who attended the rally—who preferred to be acknowledged as protesters in their own right—primarily supported Bannon's right to speak on campus.
“We’re worried about the state of free speech on this campus and the fact that these radical leftists are trying to protest against a legitimate speaker,” first-year Luke Tierney said.
Several of the counter-protesters also emphasized that they did not necessarily support Bannon or Trump. Some supported one person, but not the other, or were more concerned about free speech generally.
“We’re not counter-protesting…we’re protesting for free speech. I don’t think any of us actually like Bannon,” first-year Christian Robinson said.
“I think that free speech is something that should be defended. Especially when a speaker has been invited and helped by a legitimate organization,” said first-year David Weisskopf, who wore a ghillie suit and waved an American flag at the protest. “We believe that regardless of what you believe…we’re all here to unite under this banner of America and free speech.”
While Tierney told The Maroon that he is “not necessarily opposed” to Bannon, he expressed his support of Trump: “I think all of us here like what Mr. Trump’s doing for the country…we just had 4.5 percent economic growth*, he’s trying to stop the spread of harmful, illegal immigration, and I think he’s on the path to—as our hats and shirts say—making America great again.”
Beyond the issue of free speech, some counter-protesters felt that mainstream media has misrepresented Bannon.
“Anybody saying Bannon is a racist obviously hasn’t read Bannon. I don’t agree with him, but he’s a nationalist. Nationalism includes me—a black man—and includes black women, white women, everyone across the spectrum. It’s not a white ethno-state thing,” Robinson said.
“We don’t support Nazi agendas, or white supremacy. We are a democracy…. Freedom of speech is okay, but not when you speak out of hate,” said a member of a group advocating for school choice.
Fourth-year and College Republicans president Matthew Foldi commended all protesters for coming out in the cold to exercise their rights to freedom of speech.
“I think we’re seeing the best of the First Amendment going on on both sides of the street,” he said.
After the protest, organizers moved to University Church to plan their next move. Members of the University of Chicago Police Department asked protesters to stay on the sidewalk as they walked from Booth to University Church, where protesters began a new chant: “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?”
Protesters agreed to hold another protest next Friday at 3 p.m., as well as a to-be-scheduled teach-in.
*The Labor Department reported Friday that the economy added 200,000 jobs in January, and unemployment held steady at 4.1 percent. The average hourly earnings for private-sector workers rose 2.9 percent from a year earlier, their largest year-over-year increase since June 2009, according to The Wall Street Journal.