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Chapel Hill, NC:: Students Confront Ashcroft

By Kosta Harlan

Students protesting John Ashcroft.

Chapel Hill, NC – Over 120 students rallied against John Ashcroft at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill campus Sept. 12, disrupting his speech. Ashcroft was Attorney General under Bush. He is responsible for the repressive PATRIOT Act, legislative attacks on women's reproductive rights and policies aimed at criminalizing immigrant workers.

Students for a Democratic Society called for the demonstration early in the week. As word got around campus that Ashcroft was coming to speak and that a protest was being organized, other student groups planned their own response. Meghan Morris, from Feminist Students United, explained why they protested, “John Ashcroft represents a lot of the racism, homophobia and sexism in the U.S. today. He opposes abortion and same-sex marriage; he is behind the most egregious assaults on our civil liberties in recent years, especially since Sept. 11. He epitomizes everything about the policies that hurt so many people – except rich white men like himself.”

The rally kicked off with students chanting for an end to the 'war on terror' and the occupation of Iraq. With megaphone in hand, students made speeches denouncing Ashcroft while passers-by stopped to see what was going on. Student activist Mohanned Mallah condemned Ashcroft's racist attacks on Arab-Americans in the aftermath of Sept. 11. He said, “I am not a terrorist – I am Arab! I came over to the U.S. from Palestine when I was five years old. It's policies that John Ashcroft and the Bush administration make that have kept me from getting my citizenship – or even my permanent residence. I'm not even a green card holder. I would like to go home and see my family in Jordan, but I wouldn't be allowed back into the country, so I've been stuck in the United States for the past fifteen years.”

When Ashcroft's talk began, the protesters streamed into the auditorium. Each time Ashcroft spoke on the occupation of Iraq and the 'war on terror,' students disrupted his speech, standing up to expose his lies. Ashcroft became increasingly frustrated and arrogant towards his challengers. Things came to a head when 60 students at the front of the auditorium stood up and led a coordinated walkout. This led to a new rally outside, louder than before, demanding that Ashcroft leave. The rally swelled to 120 protesters, who could be heard clearly from inside the auditorium. Later, the demonstrators spotted Ashcroft exiting the building and chased after him chanting, “Fascist go home!”

A debate is now raging on campus over the protesters' tactics. Some say that the protest “hurt the credibility of the student body,” and was a “disgrace.” Others counter that the protesters did a good thing in opposing Ashcroft, arguing that war criminals should be confronted any time they set foot on campus. Eastern Carolina University student Jacek Teller, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, summed up his message to students this way, “Don't buy into the drumbeat for war, don't rally around the flag thinking it's going to provide you security, because it's not. If you do that, you're just part of the system of manufactured consent for these war crimes.”

Students protesting John Ashcroft.

Students walk out during speech by John Ashcroft.

Students protest outside John Ashcroft speech.

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