When Columbia University students and community allies chased MInuteman project founder Jim Gilchrist off the stage at Roone Arledge Auditorium on Oct. 4, a furor erupted. Fox News and the New York Post were outraged. Columbia president Lee Bollinger promised to punish student activists who organized the outburst. Below is a short statement issued by audience members who stormed the stage:
In the aftermath of the protest on the night of Oct. 4 against Jim Gilchrist and the Minutemen at Roone Arledge auditorium, we want to state clearly: We are proud to send the message to the country that racist and fascist groups are not welcome at Columbia or in New York City.
As Chicanos and Latinos, alongside African- Americans and progressive people of other nationalities, we took it as our responsibility to give voice to the undocumented immigrant families who live in fear of terrorist vigilante groups like the Minutemen. Armed patrols by these groups force more and more people desperate for work to find even more hazardous ways into the United States. Over 3,000 people – including hundreds of children – have died in the desert.
Fascist scapegoating is not up for academic discussion. Like Hitler in pre-Nazi Germany, Gilchrist and the Minutemen attempt to demonize foreign-born poor people, blaming “illegals” for society’s problems. His group doesn’t present reasoned debate. It spouts racism and hatred, aiming to divide people against one another.
We are sure that if the Nazi party held a public meeting on campus, Jewish groups would be there to challenge them – so would we.We are sure that if the Ku Klux Klan held a public meeting on campus, African-American groups would be there to challenge them – so would we. The Minutemen are no different.
The hundreds of people outside Roone Arledge chanting, “Minutemen, Nazis, KKK, racists, fascists, go away!” represented students and community people from all walks of life. Inside the auditorium, perhaps as much as 80 percent of the crowd was repelled by the Minutemen’s message of hate.
When we walked on stage with anti-racist banners for immigrant rights, we were met with violent attack by Gilchrist’s goons. We were the ones who were punched and kicked.We are proud that despite these attacks, we held our ground. When Gilchrist walked off stage, it was because he and his Minutemen outfit were isolated.
This is not an issue of free speech. The Minutemen were able to reserve a hall at our university and had the protection of campus security and the NYPD – all to espouse their hate speech.We along with hundreds of others expressed our right to speak and protest.
Over the last 50 years, throughout the Civil Rights movement and the women’s rights movement, ultraright- wing groups have routinely used violence, lynchings, armed assaults and bombings against oppressed people. Yet when we organize to oppose them to express our contempt for their violence, we are criticized for inhibiting the free speech of the ones who perpetrate violence.
Shame on the Columbia University administration for launching an investigation of peaceful protesters, and failing to condemn the perpetrators of violence. Shame on the College Republicans for inviting this fascist thug and provoking such outrage on our campus.
For more debate on the Minutemen in New York, see nyc.indymedia.org.