KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Ross: Does the right to protest outweigh the right to learn?

Apr 29, 2024, 12:18 PM

Photo: A pro-Palestinian demonstration takes place outside the link light rail station at the Unive...

A pro-Palestinian demonstration takes place outside the link light rail station at the University of Washington in April 2024. (Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

Does the right to protest outweigh the right to learn?

First, a little personal backstory.

My freshman year at Cornell saw the same kind of chaos we’re seeing on campus this year. In the spring of 1970 there were Vietnam protests, building occupations, the Africana Studies center was burned down in April and then it all broke loose after the Kent State shootings in May.

Half a million demonstrators marched on Washington.

And I missed a bunch of classes, enough classes that my career track changed from physics to English.

I’m not claiming that, but for those demonstrations, I might have one day cracked the mysteries of quantum electro dynamics. However, it pretty much gutted my academic schedule.

I got through it, and managed to find a decent fallback career.

But it’s the reason I had an instant reaction to Sunday’s headline in The New York Times which read:

“With pro-Palestinian protests spreading across campuses nationwide … When does a demonstration cross the line?”

I can answer that.

When a protest devolves into violence, obviously it crosses a line. But I think it also crosses a line when it means disrupting the education of students who didn’t pay all that tuition to be surrounded by chaos.

An organizer of the recent protests at Cornell – who was suspended for a demonstration which involved loud chanting and a “die-in”– wrote a piece in the Cornell Daily Sun to explain himself.

He writes that he’s a sophomore who feels strongly about genocide. He also opposes Cornell’s support of a tech company involved in the design of the unmanned bulldozers being used by Israel. That’s true – the Israeli press has documented the unmanned bulldozers – in fact Israel also uses robot dogs for surveillance. So he has every right to expose all that.

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But however strongly he may feel, he doesn’t have the right to disrupt somebody else’s education.

If he wants to expose Israel’s hypocrisy, he can march, wave a sign, write op-eds, start a YouTube channel– better yet, travel to Israel and join the protest camp outside (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s residence.

But the idea that campus protesters think the expression of their opinions trumps everybody else’s right to an education strikes me as pretty arrogant. You are disrupting the lives of people who played no part in the injustice you are trying to end.

And they won’t forget.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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