Black Lives Matter protesters at Virginia’s College of William & Mary stormed the stage at an American Civil Liberties Union-sponsored event last week to criticize the organization’s stance on the Charlottesville unrest.
The “Students and the First Amendment” event, co-sponsored by Alma Mater Productions and the ACLU, was interrupted Wednesday, Sept. 27, when protesters took over the stage less than five minutes after ACLU of Virginia executive director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga’s entrance, campus paper The Flat Hat reported.
The students’ protest came in response to the ACLU’s defense of white supremacists’ right to free speech in the wake of the Charlottesville violence that left one woman dead and 19 others badly injured. The group’s stance on the matter drew backlash from supporters and detractors alike.
“Liberalism is white supremacy!” the protesters shouted with signs in hand. “The revolution will not uphold the Constitution.”
Demonstrators also carried a banner that read “Blood on Your Hands” and chanted “A-C-L-U, you’d protect Hitler too!” as they formed a line blocking the stage. The group live streamed the protest on its Facebook page.
After about 20 minutes of chanting, AMP Director of Internal Affairs Hasini Bandara offered the protesters a microphone, which a spokesperson used to denounce the ACLU’s support of the First Amendment rights of white supremacists, and suggest that the organization is providing them an unnecessary platform, the newspaper reported.
“When is the free speech of the oppressed protected?” a BLM group representative asked the crowd. “We know from personal experience that rights granted to wealthy, white, cis, male, straight bodies do not trickle down to marginalized groups. We face greater barriers and consequences for speaking.”
The chanting continued after the representative took their place back in line, forcing organizers to cancel the event.
“It was a collective decision from people in the AMP leadership team and our advisers,” AMP director Miguel Dayan told The Flat Hat. “It was clear we [were] unable to continue with the event, and it was appropriate to cancel.”
William & Mary College President Taylor Reveley issued a statement following the protest criticizing demonstrators for shutting down the event and attempting to drown out students who had gathered to ask Gastañaga questions after the cancellation was announced.
“Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community,” Reveley said. “This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency.
“William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue,” she added.
As of now, there are no plans to reschedule the event.