What I saw at the regents protest

While the protesters may have done something illegal – was it actually wrong?

by Chelsey Perkins

When I showed up at the McNamara Alumni Center last Friday to attend the rally in support of the striking University workers, I was not expecting to actually enter the Board of Regents meeting being held on the sixth floor that morning.

As I am sure you have seen or read in the news, as a result of the disruption of the meeting, University police arrested five supporters. This angered many of the other protesters present, some of whom chanted to the police officers, “Let them go!”

The truth is, however, that those five people, along with everyone who chose to chant and hold signs in that room that morning, were in violation of a Minnesota statute (624.72) that pertains to interference with use of public property. If you read the statute, the Board of Regents is even specifically mentioned. There is, unfortunately, no denying this; the police enforced the law and truthfully did not give us that much trouble.

The real question is, however, why does a law such as this exist? It seems to be yet another convenient exception to our rights and liberties buried beneath legalese. Safety reasons could be argued as the purpose of this law, or as the statute states, “for the purpose of protecting the conduct of public

business therein or thereon, free from interference, or disruption or the threat thereof Ö” However, I believe that the true motives behind laws such as these – which have been seen before as during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle and will be seen again as the Republican National Convention comes to town – are to prevent the people on the top from having real contact with the people on the bottom. If that buffer is maintained, as the logic seems to lend, chaos is prevented and burning protester passions are squelched.

I have always been a cautious person, and when I was involved in the incident Friday, I will admit that I was nervous. But coming from that point of view, I also believe that nonviolent civil disobedience is not wrong, no matter the legality. Just because a law exists does not make it a good and just law; today’s anniversary serves as a reminder of the roots of the USA Patriot Act, for example, which has demonstrated this to many Americans in the past few years.

Let us not forget as well, that at one time, laws were in place that made the separation of white people and people of color legal. Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sat in at lunch counters and were arrested many times and harassed by public officials, yet, they played an important role in eradicating the very laws they were charged with violating.

My point is this: Although it is rarely possible to prove the true motives behind the passing of a law, it is not a bad thing to question authority and the laws that govern the everyday people of this country. After all, a certain amendment to the Constitution, the First Amendment, does guarantee us the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. Just because laws have been passed in response to those unfortunate liberties (unfortunate, at least, for the people in power), does not make these laws right.

Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected].