Students protest Bush’s speech

by Juliette Crane

When then-Vice President George Bush came to campus in 1987, he sparked student protests over the ongoing Iran-Contra scandal in the Reagan administration.
Bush came to Northrop Auditorium to give a speech on U.S.-Soviet relations. But student protesters had more pressing issues in mind when they disrupted Bush’s speech.
More than 300 University students gathered at a rally before Bush’s speech to voice their anger with the United States’ support of the Contras, a rebel force opposing the Nicaraguan government at the time.
The Iran-Contra scandal involved the Reagan administration’s sale of guns to Iranian’s fighting a war against Iraq, then using the extra money to fund the Contras.
Allegations concerning Bush’s direct involvement in Central American foreign policy had been spreading when he came to the University.
Much of Bush’s 30-minute speech was virtually drowned out. Protesters verbally attacked Bush with catcalls, curses and chants.
The Daily reported that cries of “He’s a terrorist,” “bullshit” and “Nazi” frequently punctuated Bush’s remarks.
Others allegedly goose-stepped down the aisles mocking Bush with their arms raised in the Nazi salute, shouting “Sieg Heil. Sieg Heil.”
Before the event was over, University Police had arrested three students for disorderly conduct when they lay in the aisles to prevent people from leaving, and dragged away three others for waving a banner over the balcony rail.
Student conduct code charges were also filed against five students, four of whom were Progressive Student Organization members, a group that dominated the protests.
Despite such disruptions, Bush kept on speaking.
He ignored the protesters until the end of his address when he reportedly called them a “motley-looking group of people.”
He declared, “One who talks all the time, but doesn’t listen, is consumed with ignorance.”
But protesters justified their actions on the grounds of freedom of speech.
However, the Daily received numerous letters to the editor from University students opposed to such heckling.
Students asked protesters to show some respect and consideration for the rights of the speaker and the rights of the audience. Many felt the most offensive actions was “their greeting and farewell to Bush — the Nazi salute.”
Others who intended to listen to Bush speak about U.S.-Soviet relations were frustrated by the protests, and said having to endure the rowdy radicals was difficult and disruptive.
University President Ken Keller, along with the University Board of Regents, and the University Senate each apologized to Bush for the student’s disruptive behavior during the speech.
Keller reportedly labeled the incident “shameful and damaging to the University, but more importantly, damaging to free speech.”
According to the Daily, members of the Progressive Student Organization rebuked the apologies, stating the hecklers did not infringe upon Bush’s freedom of speech. They said everyone should have the opportunity to have his or her views heard.
“George Bush has practically unlimited access to the media. He is not going to have any problems getting his ideas across,” PSO members said in the Daily.