Occupy Athenaeum

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be coming to the Claremont McKenna College Athenaeum this November 30th, but not everyone is happy about it. On the same day, a group of students plan to come together to protest Rice’s presence on the campus as a part of a demonstration organized in part by the club Occupy Claremont, a name that was the punch line to a joke long before it was an actual club. Occupy Claremont held an event to publicize their protest on Monday, November 21st, including a screening of the British comedy In the Loop, a dark parody of the political atmosphere surrounding the start of the Iraq War. It didn’t directly mention Iraq, President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, or any actual members of the American government, but it makes politicians look bad, so why not? For the record, I actually loved the movie and encourage readers to check it out.

Following the screening, Pitzer professors Dan Segal and Geoffrey Herrera hosted a discussion about the film and its relation to the coming visit of Condoleezza Rice. During the course of their discussion, organizers of the Rice protest, with the help of Segal and Herrera, clarified their motivations for putting together the demonstration.

Namely: Condoleezza Rice, philanthropic pianist and advocate of increasing aid to Africa, is evil and CMC has nothing to learn from her. And that evil part? That’s no exaggeration, that’s straight out of the mouth of Professor Segal.

To begin, they pointed out repeatedly, we can’t actually learn anything from a decorated Stanford Professor and key figure in the American political scene, and if we can, we certainly can't do it in person! As Herrera explained “We should all continue to learn from Condoleezza Rice, but you don’t have to listen to her in order to do that.” Segal added, “She’s much more polished and practiced at this than the people in the audience, so she’s ready for everything so it’s not actually going to be an open exchange.”

Our mistake, I guess we should be learning from Condoleezza Rice by ignoring her. What were we thinking? How could we ever hope to glean any insight from an individual with polish and an aptitude for public speaking. Perhaps we could invite Joe Biden instead?

Rather than listening to Rice, organizers of the protest hope that you will instead elect to learn from them at their "teach-ins" where they will provide lectures on her "crimes against humanity."  That sure sounds like a non-biased, quality educational opportunity to me, especially when anyone is allowed to lead one.

But why protest the event? The professors and organizers attending the film screening provided a large variety of reasons for protesting the event, some of which make less sense than others and some of which make no sense at all. Here’s what the event organizers (who did not give their names) had to say. One hoped to “bring up the fact that [the Iraq War] is not over yet." Maybe she hasn’t heard that it will be in less than two months. Another boldly and incoherently charged, “I feel that she should not be educating college students on policy because she did not follow policy while she was National Security Advisor,” while a third proclaimed, “It's not just about her as an individual, it’s the fact that people use Condoleezza Rice to say that we live in a post-racialized, post-sexualized society because a women of color got into such a high position of power, which is not the case ... and that’s also part of the reason why we’re bringing awareness to what’s going on.”

So there you have it. The student masterminds behind this particular endeavor want to remind everyone that a war that is just weeks away from ending is not, in fact, over yet, that policy is apparently synonymous with protocol, and that the success of one talented African American woman proves the horrible racism and sexism that is crippling this nation.

The professors justifications for the demonstration were a little easier to follow, but no less questionable. When asked directly about the purpose of the protest, for example, Professor Herrera explained, “The thing that’s most astonishing to me perhaps about those that were involved in foreign policy decision-making during the Bush administration is that none have really suffered for it.” He may be right. Perhaps Condoleezza Rice, a well respected public figure and successful professor, will experience such profound suffering at the sight of a few dozen college students calling her names while she talks about her very lucrative book, that she will change her direction in life entirely and sign up to work for Ralph Nader.

Professor Segal, on the other hand, criticized those who “put their careers first, as Condoleezza Rice I think has quite consistently for decades.” First, over what? Justice, he seems to think. He does make the ironclad point that “She was without question on duty when the United States went to the UN and lied to justify to going to the war. She was without question on duty when the United States made decisions to use torture against its prisoners.” Sounds fair. Rice is evil because she did not resign when the general political goings on were unsatisfactory for two Pitzer professors and Occupy Claremont, who, by the way, have actually set up a small Occupy encampment over on 2nd street. Feel free to visit and show your support for their efforts to block sidewalks and demonstrate that you can, in fact, Occupy Wall Street while still on main street.

It is the right of Claremont McKenna College as an independent institution to invite who we choose to our school, with or without the expressed written consent of Occupy Claremont and a select group of Pitzer students. They have a right to their opinions, but not the right to push them on us. In response, I hope that CMC’ers will pack the Athenaeum this Wednesday. Let’s show the demonstrators that we don’t need their approval to exercise our right to learn from whomever we choose to.