Defending Student Activism

Marlin Agoub/Photography Intern

The ASUCI Legislative Council voted in favor of a bill that supports the Irvine 11’s right to protest and holds the Orange County District Attorney accountable for “wrongfully prosecuting students for peaceful protest and democratic participation.” The vote took place during the weekly ASUCI Legislative Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18.

The council voted unanimously for the legislation after a lively discussion between ASUCI members and the public.

The meeting began with the public comments, during which guests were invited to speak behind the podium for four minutes.

The first comment was delivered by a student who wished to remain anonymous. The student explained how she wanted to bring up the issue of criminalizing student activism.

She said that the most recent example of this criminalization could be seen by the acts of the Irvine 11. The student then urged ASUCI to look beyond the reasons why the Irvine 11 was protesting and to come to the conclusion that stifling a person’s right to free speech and peaceful protest is wrong.

The following public comments provided support to the first statement and contained similar messages.

“Activism has really played a very large component in my life and in my educational experiences here at UCI,” said third-year student Traci Ishigo. “Direct action and organizing is really crucial to make change… therefore, activism is something that we need to protect.”

Following the comments from the public, the meeting continued with a reading of the proposed legislation written by Lisa Lei, the School of Social Sciences Representative.

The beginning of the bill describes the controversial event that took place on Feb. 8, 2010, when eleven students stood up and verbally protested visiting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during his speech.

The students were disciplined by UCI administration and the Office of Student Conduct. The Muslim Student Union (MSU) received various consequences as well.

Months after disciplinary actions were taken by the university, ten students were charged with two misdemeanor counts and were found to be guilty by OCDA Tony Rackauckus.

The bill then concludes that “ASUCI opposes the criminalization of peaceful student protestors,” and that “ASUCI commits to protect the rights of students and their rights to express an opinion, political or otherwise, even though these opinions may be controversial.”

Discussion of the legislation followed afterwards.

While there were several council members who expressed their support for the bill, a few members showed hesitation to some aspects of the legislation and the issue of Irvine 11.

“The thing about the ambassador’s speech is that there was a question and answer session, which means the students had the opportunity to express their opinions freely at the end without disturbing the peace,” said Jack Pan, the Physical Sciences Representative of the board. “[Therefore], the organization behind this disturbance and the individuals that were involved should be punished according to University policies, mainly because their actions have now caused a decline in the popularity of our university.”

Although Pan agreed that the university should have punished the individuals involved, he did not agree with the OCDA’s involvement with the case.

“The local government should not be involved in our university’s affairs when it doesn’t cause any severe damage to society,” he said. “The bottom line is we cannot support the Irvine 11 because we need to stand neutral politically, but we always firmly support freedom of speech.”

Because of Pan’s last point and other concerns from council members, the ASUCI Legislative Board amended a line in the legislation that originally said “ASUCI supports the Irvine 11,” and changed it so that it now reads “ASUCI supports the Irvine 11’s right to protest.”

Members expressed that by doing so, this helps keep ASUCI neutral and out of the light of controversy.

“We should always stand against criminalizing students – not just in this case, but also for all peaceful demonstrations and protests.” Pan said.

The meeting concluded with 15 votes in favor of the legislation.