Hampton University: Battle over Repression of World Can't Wait Protest

Revolution #026, December 12, 2005, posted at revcom.us

On Nov. 2 student activists at Hampton University--an historically Black school in Virginia-- were part of the nationwide launch of the World Can't Wait movement to drive out the Bush regime. The students were met with heavy repression: School authorities sent campus police against them--they were videotaped, their ID's were taken, and their literature was confiscated.

In the weeks before Nov. 2 when the Hampton students stepped out as organizers for World Can't Wait, the administration sent out squads to tear down flyers posted by students and had undercover cops follow the students and bring them in for questioning.

The Hampton University administration threatened the student organizers with serious punishment. In official letters, they accused the student activists of "cajoling" and "proselytizing" other students and distributing "unauthorized materials"--flyers they passed out on campus. The letters also warned that the students could face the "maximum penalty…expulsion."

Then, when the students continued to speak out, the campus authorities escalated their threats. During an interview with local media, the campus police came and stood between the camera and the students and shut down the interview, expelling the reporters from the campus. After support began flooding in on behalf of the students and an article appeared in the local newspaper exposing this attack, Bennie McMorris, Hampton's chief student affairs officer, claimed that "some outside groups have issued threats to university personnel regarding this matter" and said that "all threats have been turned over to the proper police authorities."

The day before the Hampton students were to attend the national organizers conference for World Can't Wait in New York, the school administration issued summonses for a hearing on the next working day over the possible expulsion--leaving the students little time to contact lawyers and prepare. When the Dean's office was flooded with phone calls of protest, the school issued more summonses to students.

The Hampton administration is predominantly Republican, and its president, Dr. William R. Harvey, is a Bush appointee to the Federal National Mortgage Association.

Bennie McMorris put out a statement saying, "The issue is not about the ‘Bush Administration, genocide in the Sudan, AIDS awareness and homophobia.' The issue is compliance with university policies and procedures."

But, in a Dec. 2 radio interview on Democracy Now, Hampton student Bryan Ogilvie said:

"Well, actually, as you know, November 2 was the nationwide student walkout and protest of the Bush regime under the World Can't Wait organization. So a few of our students got in contact with some of the World Can't Wait people in New York, and we decided to bring that event out here on campus, because the student body here could really use some social awareness, we felt. Basically, what we wanted to do was structure this event where we can address a multitude of issues around this entire Bush regime awareness. We addressed issues such as the cost of the war in Iraq, AIDS, homophobia, the prison-industrial complex, and a multitude of other things." (democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/12/02/1451228)

A Growing Support

On Dec. 2 the accused students were brought in one-by-one for a hearing conducted by school officials behind closed doors. Outside the hearing, 50 Hampton students defiantly demonstrated support for the targeted students. Other supporters prohibited from entering campus property--students from Howard University, Old Dominion University, and others from the surrounding area--protested at a busy intersection nearby.

Exactly one month after thousands of people in more than 70 cities nationwide held protests to launch a movement to Drive Out the Bush Regime, five Hampton students were penalized with 20 hours of community service for their participation in this effort.

It's unjust and outrageous that the Hampton students received any punishment for their political expression and activity. But this is an important and significant victory that the Hampton administration was forced into a major concession--that they had to back off their threats of explusion because of the firm stand of the students and the growing and widesapread support for them.

Broadly throughout academia and more widely in society, the Hampton students have been winning increasing support--including important and significant African-American voices. A statement of support for the Hampton students, issued on behalf of The World Can’t Wait--Drive Out the Bush Regime, has garnered more than a thousand signatures, including prominent academics and writers and many Hampton University alumni. (See the statement)

After receiving this statement, Judy Richardson, series associate producer for Eyes on the Prize and several recent documentaries on slavery, wrote to the Hampton administration,

"I have been reading about the possible expulsion of 7 Hampton University students on a number of listserves (including one for African American Studies and the Movement listserve serving former staffers of the Civil Rights Movement’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee/SNCC). As a 50-something African American woman, I am compelled to write this email in strong support of the students."

"Repression Is Going on Across the U.S."

After the Dec. 2 hearing, John Robinson, one of the targeted Hampton students, said,

"I just want people to know that this is not solely about us being exonerated. Even if they let us off the hook, conditions on campus will be even worse if all our political activity is still ‘unauthorized'… There is a lot of connection here--it is more severe and ridiculous at our campus, but repression is going on across the U.S."

There are lessons to be learned and emulated from the Hampton struggle by all those who hate the shape this country and the world is being bludgeoned into. This is a time that is crackling with both dangers and possibilities. Stepping out with courage, telling the truth, and refusing to compromise or be intimidated for doing so can strike a deep chord among millions who are agonizing over the direction that this country and the planet are heading.

There is an important lesson to grasp deeply and build off of in the battle to defend the Hampton students. Back in the sixties, the Free Speech Movement and the whole student movement got launched into a whole new arena when the authorities cracked down on the movement, and then when far, far greater numbers of people were brought into the struggle as they checked out why the authorities were trying to shut down the student protesters (see excerpt from Bob Avakian's memoir on the Free Speech Movement).

It is worth noting that a great many who came to the support of the Hampton students not only protested against the threatened punishment, but said that these students should be congratulated.

While the threat of serious punishment against the Hampton students has been fought back, there is a larger struggle that rages on. The concluding sentence of the World Can't Wait statement defending the Hampton students must be taken to heart by many thousands: "We also call on students at campuses nationwide to send statements of support, and to join, strengthen and support the movement to Drive Out the Bush Regime because the World Can’t Wait!"

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