Karl Rove spoke at the Johns Hopkins University last week. Mr. Rove delivered the final lecture for the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, which is entirely student run and sponsored by the university. I am a co-chair of this organization.
Unsurprisingly, there was a considerable amount of protest. Karl Rove comes to speak, people are going to dissent. I fully understand. He is a controversial public figure.
I have been told that I should be "ashamed" of myself for inviting Mr. Rove to campus.
The "Occupy Baltimore" movement saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate the university's campus (sans tents). And boy, do they love to hear themselves yell.
Protesters from a Hopkins "human rights" group chanted outside of the lecture hall before the event. I'm all for it — it's their constitutional right. I believe these people were mainly from the Hopkins organization and not from Occupy. But I have one complaint about this group.
They had the audacity, and I'll paraphrase, to chant that Mr. Rove used the Sept. 11 attacks to his political advantage. It is fundamentally wrong to use this horrific day as a means of protest. I do not say this as a New Yorker affected by Sept. 11. I say this as a human being with a moral compass. Chanting about anything having to do with Sept. 11 from a megaphone belittles that day. Shame on you, my peers and professors, for implicating Sept. 11 in a partisan issue. You have overstepped a boundary.
Mr. Rove's lecture commenced around 8:10 p.m. By 8:20, chaos ensued. There were approximately 60 members of Occupy in the audience. They chanted their vapid slogans. As many of us realize, there is no "99 percent." Our societal makeup, frankly, is more complicated than that. Occupy's yelling continually disrupted Mr. Rove's speech. It became borderline impossible for him to finish a sentence. This is when these dissenters overstepped another boundary. Just as protesters have a right to assemble, protest and speak within reason, so too does Mr. Rove. Screaming over him is unproductive and disrespectful.
Last Tuesday's events proved that we have become a brutally heated, partisan society. This event is a microcosm of a broader issue. Many of us only indulge in networks and publications that reaffirm our own beliefs. This is inherently dangerous. When did it become acceptable to only listen to one side? Rest assured, each side believes that it is morally and intellectually superior to the other.
One must remain respectful and accepting of potentially opposing ideologies. The Symposium in no way endorses the thoughts, beliefs and/or political ideologies of the speakers we invite to campus. Asserting that we do is simplistic and baseless. This would be equivalent to asserting that Columbia University endorses the foreign policy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because he spoke there.
You know the disclaimer at the beginning of DVDs that states something like "the opinions and ideas of the people in these videos in no way reflects the beliefs" of the distributor? The Symposium is equivalent to the distributor. The speakers are the DVD content.
Indeed, our lecture series is a forum that takes into account many points on the political spectrum. There is value in this. Obama adviser David Axelrod spoke earlier this month, Mr. Rove last week. This seems logical for a nonpartisan student group bent on political balance and neutrality. It is essential to hear from both sides of the aisle, regardless of which side one associates with.
What happened last week transcends partisanship. Regardless of opinion, one must be able to respectfully sit and actively listen to the opposition. It is only through listening to the other side (even the most extreme) that one becomes truly informed.
While I do not personally agree with anything — anything — Mr. Rove has to say, he served in the White House. He is a political figure who shapes policy, whether you (or I) like it or not. If one wants to have an informed debate and take the stance opposing Mr. Rove's, then one had better believe it is vital to listen to him — not to a liberal pundit speaking about him, but Mr. Rove himself.
Inviting someone like Mr. Rove to a college campus is nothing to be "ashamed" of. Cowardly heckling and impeding on someone's right to speak is shameful.
Respectfully listening to viewpoints one vehemently disagrees with makes one a more informed, politically aware and engaged individual.
Elizabeth Goodstein, a junior at the Johns Hopkins University, is publicity chair of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium.