WRHU Interview on Free Speech Zones

Ian Wilder was interviewed on WRHU by Rebecca Gianarkis  about the “Free Speech Zones” at the Hofstra 2008 and 2012 Presidential Debates. Wilder discussed the ironically named “Free Speech Zones” which kept public speakers caged and separated from public officials, media, and the Hofstra community. 

A rough map of the interview and related thoughts are below.  At the end of the post are links to our full coverage of the 2008 and 2012 debates.

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RG: When Hofstra University hosted the third and final presidential debate in 2008, an area known as a Free Speech Zone was set aside for community and student protesters. 

Again in 2012, Hofstra welcomed the presidential debate back to campus for the second presidential debate and again a free speech zone was established. 

Whereas the debate was held on the north side of campus, the Free Speech Zone was located on the south side of campus and across Hempstead Turnpike. 

Given its location, the zone was out of sight of both Democrat and Republican candidates. 

Even students who wanted to enter the Free Speech Zone needed to leave the regularly scheduled events taking place in the heart of campus and make a special trip to the zone. 

As a student on campus in 2012, I had no idea that such a site existed, and I wish I had. 

Here with us this morning to discuss the free speech zones on Hofstra’s campus during both debates is Hofstra alumnus Ian Wilder. 

Ian currently serves as the Secretary for the Green Party of Suffolk County. 

Good morning, Ian.

 

Q:  you were present at the free speech zone (public area, protester pen) for both the 2008 and 2012 debates.  Can you define a free speech zone in your own words and experience?

IW: A free speech zone is an idea that violates the spirit, if the not the letter of the US Constitution. The point of the 1st amendment is that the whole of the United States is a free speech.

What free speech zones have come to mean illustrates how the 2 corporate political parties have colluded to shred the Bill of Rights.

Free speech zones have become a caged-in are where any speech that is actually free, not corporately sponsored, is safely out of sight of the carefully curated corporate message.

In Hofstra’s case, the free speech zone was not only located on the opposite side of Hempstead Turnpike, it was located at the far end of campus, far away from where the public or students would happen upon speakers by accident.

It was a large cage, but still a fenced in area that inexplicably, but somehow appropriately, had metal detectors to keep the participants from bringing in anything dangerous except the most dangerous thing, their ideas.

The only real purpose the metal detectors played was to further dissuade anyone, especially students, from entering the free speech zone. The same people who attended the free speech area were demonstrating freely along Hempstead Turnpike without having to pass through any security, so who were the metal detectors protecting?.

To be fair, Hofstra did create the appearance of a structure of support for the free speech zone by have a stage for speakers, amplification so it could be heard within the fenced area, and staff keeping a schedule of the speakers.

The text of my 2012 speech, “Four Years Later, Same Duopoly”, can be found here.

Q:  WHO ELSE WAS PRESENT AT HOFSTRA’S FREE SPEECH ZONE?  ACTIVISTS?  STUDENTS?

It was mostly speakers and their supporters, which included activists who were demonstrating along Hempstead Turnpike at times.

There were few if any students nor anyone else there. That is a shame because they would have heard first hand accounts of viewpoints that they would not get at other campus programs.

My wife and I left one campus program with two Hofstra professors because we found what they had to say to be derivative of what the 2 corporate candidates were going to say at the debates. There was nothing to create initiate thoughtful discussion.

In contrast, the free speech zone was a fertile garden of diverse viewpoints. You had Occupy activists, Anti-Zionist Hasidic Jews, Evangelic Climate Change activists, Veterans against War, Green Party candidates, Libertarian activists.

 

Q:  THINKING  BACK TO THE 2008 DEBATE, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 15 DEMONSTRATORS WHO ATTEMPTED TO SPEAK WITH PARTY CANDIDATES?  AND NICK MORGAN IN PARTICULAR?

BACKGROUND: PLEASE COME OUT AND SUPPORT THE 15 DEMONSTRATORS – MANY IRAQ VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR – WHO WERE ARRESTED THE NIGHT OF THE HOFSTRA PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE. THEY WANTED TO ASK THE TWO MAJOR PARTY CANDIDATES A QUESTION ABOUT THE WAR AND A QUESTION ABOUT VETERAN BENEFITS, AND THEY WERE DENIED ENTRY. WHEN A GROUP OF DEMONSTRATORS WAS RETREATING TO THE SIDEWALK, THEY WERE PUSHED BY POLICE HORSES, WITH NICK MORGAN BEING KNOCKED TO THE GROUND AND GETTING HIS CHEEKBONE FRACTURED.

I was not an eyewitness to the events, but I supported veteran’s pursuit of justice. A group of veterans who opposed our current wars felt their voice was not being heard at the debates. And they were right. At that debate, Obama said he would Increase troops in Afghanistan leaving McCain stunned that Obama was even more militaristic than him. The veterans thought there service to their country should be honored and they should be able to deliver their message of peace to the candidates. They peacefully approached the debate site. They were met by police on horse back who trampled one of the veterans.

 

Q:  ALTHOUGH ONLY TWO CANDIDATES ARE PERMITTED ON THE DEBATE FLOOR, THERE ARE CERTAINLY OTHER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WHOSE VOICES GO UNHEARD.  IN 2012, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE JILL STEIN WAS ARRESTED ALONG WITH HER RUNNING MAKE CHERI HONKALA.  CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT EVENT AND ITS AFTERMATH IN TERMS OF RESULTS AND MEDIA COVERAGE?

Yes, ever since the two corporate parties took the debates from the League of Women Voters and formed the corporately funded front organization called the Commission of Presidential Debates any other candidate has been locked out, even if that candidate is on enough ballots to win the presidency, which is a monumental task in itself since each state has a different set of rules for a presidential candidate.

Like 2008, I was not an eyewitness, but I supported her seeking justice. So in 2012, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein peacefully approached the debate site, as the veterans had four years earlier. In some ways, there message overlapped, again unlike the two corporate presidential candidates Stein represented a message of peace. One of the four pillars of the Green Party is nonviolence.

Also like the veterans, Stein had earned the right to have her message heard on the platform. Thousands of Americans across the country had worked diligently to put her on eighty-five percent of the ballots, more than enough for her to be elected president. She was held shackled to a chair for eight hours.

 

Q:  HOW DOES A FREE SPEECH ZONE IMPACT VISIBILITY WHEN IT COMES TO MAJOR MEDIA OUTLETS, ETC?  WERE FOX, CNN, AND NBC AT THE FREE SPEECH ZONE?

I would say that cordoning off free speech from the rest of the debate proceedings has very little effect on corporate media coverage. Not because Hofstra has done a good job of being inclusive, but because the corporate media do an excellent job of being exclusive.

I doubt the corporate media would cover the viewpoints of those that diverged from their narrow talking points, regardless whether the channel is considered corporate right or corporate left, even if the free speech zone was set up on the debate floor.

Much like the expectation of a university setting, the Constitution expects the press to be a marketplace of all ideas and in exchange makes it the only constitutionally protected industry.

Like Hofstra with the free speech zones exiling differing viewpoints, the corporate media is only willing to present a narrow band of ideas.

 

Q:  APART FROM THE FREE SPEECH ZONE AT HOFSTRA, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CONFINED TO A FREE SPEECH ZONE ELSEWHERE?

You would think it would be easier for me to answer “Yes” I have been at a lot of demonstrations. And a lot of demonstrations, such as those at the presidential conventions have so-called free speech zone, but I have not attended those. I would say Zucotti Park is the closest thing to free speech zone that I have attended, but even the Occupy site was chosen by the participants for symbolism and visibility unlike corporately control free speech zones.

 

Q:  IAN, HOW CAN OUR LISTENERS FIND YOU ON THE WEB OR GET IN TOUCH?

The easiest place is our website onthewilderside.com. That’s onthewilderside.com Or they can email me at ianwilder7@gmail.com. As you know I am easily google-able under I-A-N W-I-L-D-E-R. It’s mostly me and a dead English Tory MP.

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