I haven't written a whole lot lately about the controversy concerning President Obama's commencement speech tomorrow at Notre Dame. I'm sure you're all getting an earful, because that seems to be the main story on CNN today, and the media circus seems to have reached the point of fullblown frenzy this weekend. Ken is off tomorrow, and I think we'll be watching the proceedings peacefully in our own home!
I'm disturbed by much of the coverage I'm seeing, because I don't believe it's giving a true picture of what is happening, or of our community. South Bend has its problems, just like every other town, but it's still a pretty good place to live, and it's my home, dammit. The impression being given is that we're a bunch of intolerant, hateful people who don't want the President here. That couldn't be further from the truth, and our county actually went to the President in last fall's election. Of course, there are people who didn't vote for him and don't like him, and probably are pissed off that we're spending money on security. But the majority of people here support his visit, and are excited that he's speaking at Notre Dame. (No, I didn't attend Notre Dame, but since I was born and raised here, I'm a fan of the university in many ways--sports, academics, research, and what they contribute to our city.)
The protesters who are being arrested are people coming in from out of town. They're shipping in busloads of people from Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, and I think Randall Terry and Alan Keyes aren't just from out of town...I think they live on another planet. The Notre Dame students who disagree with the invitation are protesting peacefully and respectfully, with alternative speakers and a prayer vigil at the Grotto. Terry and Keyes and their minions are the ones fueling the fires of the controversy, by flying banners over campus and hiring trucks to drive around town showing offensive pictures that are seen by children. Their most recent efforts included a truck with a large photograph of a black man in chains, and the truck drove through several black neighborhoods. They were supposedly equating abortion with slavery, but I think they were just using outrageous tactics designed to generate anger and dissent. Not cool, people, not cool at all.
In the meantime, the graduating seniors have honored Father Jenkins (the President of Notre Dame and the one who issued the invitation) by choosing him as their Senior Class Fellow. One senior said that at the ceremony, Father Jenkins received a standing ovation. Although he turned down requests for an interview from the AP, Father Theodore Hesburgh, one of the most beloved and well-respected figures associated with Notre Dame, talked to one of our local TV stations and said that he approves of our new President's visit. He spoke of the various Presidents that have spoken at Notre Dame over the years.
None of them have agreed with us on all issues, but I think just coming here and seeing another point of view...that will have an effect on them. We're not a place that hides out in the corner and says we believe this and that's that and we're not going to talk to anybody that doesn't agree with us. We say, 'Hey, we know we disagree on things. Let's get together and talk.'
He also spoke about universities in general:
It's like a common place where people who disagree can get together, instead of throwing bricks at one another, they can discuss the problem and they can see different solutions to difficult problems and those solutions are going to come out of people from universities. They aren't going to come from people running around with signs.
Yay, Father Ted!
In the meantime, South Bend passed a new emergency ordinance that took effect on Thursday that anyone being arrested a second time on a misdemeanor cannot post bond and get out of jail; they must stay in jail until a judge can hear their case. This was announced on Friday. Alan Keyes was arrested for the second time on Friday, for trespassing on campus (private property, and they can enforce no trespassing if they choose to), and will spend the weekend in jail until a judge can hear his case on Monday, and decided if the bond needs to be raised. The Chief Judge said this has nothing to do with Notre Dame, and it's something they've been thinking about for a long time. I think the Judge is being a tiny bit disingenuous! But I don't care, because Keyes is not a representative of our community, cares nothing about it, and only wants to disrupt a peaceful commencement tomorrow. He has been duly charged, and I'm sure he's well-represented. His rights have not been violated.
It's very irritating--in fact, it's irritating as hell--to think that there are those around the country who think that these nutjobs are representative of our community. I may not have a huge audience here, but at least I can make sure a few people know that they don't speak for me. I hope if you watch any of this coverage tomorrow (apparently all the major networks will be here), you'll keep that in mind and not think too badly of South Bend...or its inhabitants!