January 21, 2005

Groups band together to counter inauguration

With images of President George W. Bush's Washington inauguration being broadcast live on a big screen television as a backdrop, spoken-word artists and campus poets voiced their complaints and anxieties with Bush's administration to an audience of approximately 100 people in Rockefeller Chapel at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

The event began the daylong Counter-Inaugural, an alternative ceremony held on campus that was organized by many liberal RSO's and departments, including the Political Union, SOUL, UC Democrats, MUNUC, the Center for Gender Studies, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, and the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project.

The series of events, including analysis of the election, artistic expressions, and a counter-inaugural ball, do not directly protest Bush's election but instead express the desire to form a positive vision for liberals and other opponents to Bush's policies. The event was covered by several news-media stations, including ABC-7 and WGN, and was attended by visitors from the University of Notre Dame.

Chris Nelson, a second-year in the College who worked with SOUL to distribute white armbands symbolizing protest in the Reynolds Club, said that the main purpose of the Counter-Inaugural was to raise political consciousness, which subsided after the elections.

"People we talked to did not know that Thursday was the inauguration," Nelson said, before the Counter-Inaugural. "One kid asked ‘inauguration of who?' There is a scary lack of vocal political consciousness and activism in our community, and we want to help fix that. The message of our events on Thursday is not explicitly partisan, but rather an inclusive hope for peace in the new administration, as well as acknowledgement of wars that don't get headlines—for example in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'd like some angry partisan yelling on specific issues, but I think the consensus was that involvement is the first step before we produce any clear message or action."

Gina Olson, the assistant director of programming and administration in the Center for Gender Studies, was pleased with the amount of interest in the event.

"I think the goal was for open discussions and debates that facilitate intellectual analysis and instruction," Olson said. "Many people are concerned with President Bush. The Center for Gender Studies is particularly concerned with Bush's issues on women's rights, including abortion, equal opportunity and political and economic equality, and lesbian, gay and sexual minority rights."

One event was "What Happened?" one of two teach-ins in which speakers gave various reasons why Senator John Kerry's campaign failed and what Democrats could do in the next election. Gerald Rosenberg, an associate professor of political science who was also on the panel, said gay marriage mobilized conservative voters, and is an issue that liberals must better address.

Another panelist, Amy Hollywood, a professor in the Divinity School, took the issue of morality one step further, saying that while many of Bush's supporters are white Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics form a strong body of support for Bush, particularly because of his stance gay marriage and abortion.

The last panelist, Amy Obejas, a lecturer in the Creative Writing Program, said that the Bush campaign's concentration on the Latino-American population and their understanding of the complexities of the many groups it is composed of—Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, among others—helped sway the Latino vote to Bush in the battleground states of Florida, Arizona and New Mexico.

Chris Meckstroth, a fourth-year in the College and the last panelist, said that student mobilization wasn't a problem for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. But, he said, the Republicans were also successful at mobilizing through grassroots efforts in battleground states. Meckstroth said that liberals should learn innovative grassroots campaigning, including the websites, blogging and door-to-door campaign that characterized 2004's election year, and how to use it for the next elections.

Meckstroth's group, StandUp! for Progress, was formerly NoMoreW before the election. He said the group wanted to change its name regardless of who won the election. StandUp! for Progress, which participated in the Counter-Inaugural events, raised over $1000 on campus and had a listhost of over 650 students that give its members valuable experience in voter registration and grassroots picketing.

Meckstroth said that his group did not want to lose the pre-election momentum, and wanted to funnel that energy into other progressive issues. "Now we're focused on the next step," Meckstroth said. "When the Republicans lose an election, they don't just shut up and go home, they start organizing. We need to do the same thing. So we're going to fight on the issues as the Bush Admin starts trying to push its policies through. And we're going to organize at the grassroots to link up campus and community so we're in a better position to help out by the time the 2006 Congressional elections come around."

Some students celebrated the inauguration, namely the College Republicans.

They hosted an inauguration party at Ida Noyes at 7 p.m., featuring a taped showing of Bush's inauguration supplemented with refreshments, music,

conservative giveaways, discussions, a toast to four more years, and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Of course watching the actual inaugural address is better than watching a second hand source, but also many people will not get a chance during the day to see it due to classes or other commitments so it gives people a chance to see the address," said Grace Lin, a third-year in the College and president of the College Republicans. "Republicans are in the minority at the University of Chicago. We are dedicated to sharing a conservative viewpoint. We hope this event will in fact help people understand Republican ideologies."

Many groups have future events on campus to plan. Nelson said that SOUL is trying to get Junior Senator Barack Obama to speak at the University, while Meckstroth and StandUp! for Progress is working on voicing its dissent to the current administration.

"We've already just started a weekly postering campaign to counter Bush Administration spin on the issues and keep political debate visible around campus after the election," Meckstroth said. "We're also working with the ‘Religious Left,' a group founded at the Divinity School in the wake of the election, to challenge the idea that the right has a monopoly on faith and values."