DePaul confronts a vigilante

May 21, 2008

Raquel Vega, Kathryn Weber and Adam Turl report on a spirited protest against a Minutemen cofounder at Chicago’s DePaul University.

CHICAGO--Some 400 students, activists and community members mobilized May 19 at DePaul University to confront Minutemen cofounder and racist vigilante Chris Simcox in the biggest anti-Minutemen protest in Chicago in more than three years.

Chanting for more than three hours in English and Spanish, the mostly young and multiracial crowd held picket signs on both sides of the street outside the building where Simcox spoke--while inside, anti-Minutemen DePaul students stacked the "forum."

Simcox had been invited to speak by the DePaul Conservative Alliance (DCA)--the same outfit that brought David Horowitz's racist "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" tour to campus last year.

The DCA and its leader, Nick Hahn, attempted to cloak their invitation to Simcox in terms of academic freedom, free speech and debate. But as activists on campus argued, the Minutemen aren't about the free exchange of ideas--they're about terrorizing immigrants. Simcox has spoken to organizations, such as the California Coalition on Immigration Reform, that regularly refer to Mexicans as "savages," and he boasts that the Minutemen must "defend our borders by any means necessary."

Hundreds of people gathered to protest a speech by Minutemen cofounder Chris Simcox at DePaul University in May 2008
Hundreds gathered to protest a speech by a Minutemen cofounder at DePaul University

Several campus groups--including the Activist Student Union, Latinos for Latinos, Black Student Union, Campus Antiwar Network, International Socialist Organization and others--met the week that the DCA announced the "forum" with Simcox to plan a counterdemonstration.

Students also reached out to immigrant rights organizations like the March 10 Movement, which played a central role in annual May Day mobilizations, and flew Enrique Morones, the founder of the Border Angels, into town.

"It's so wrong for DePaul University to allow somebody that promotes and practices hate and gets people fired up to go out there and commit violent acts to speak at the school," Morones said. Activist Julie Santos echoed Morones, saying that DePaul "should've not allowed him to come here and bring in a speech of hate."

Students from beyond DePaul also mobilized through the May 1 Youth Network. Several dozen immigrant rights activists held a 24-hour prayer vigil and then made an 11-mile march to DePaul's Lincoln Park campus, led in part by Jose Landaverde, pastor from Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Little Village.

ON THE day of the speech, students organized to meet at 5:30 p.m. on the campus quad and then marched to the site of the DCA event (set to begin at 7 p.m.) to picket and protest. Some of the DePaul activists were surprised by the big turnout from their own campus. The crowd grew from 150 to more than 300, including students from fraternities and academic departments, as well as activist groups.

"So many students came out," said one DePaul student. "[I'm] glad to be here. I feel like I'm doing something. And, as Americans, we should take any opportunity we can to fight injustices."

Jade Peltermon said she came out because "it was necessary for people of color to show solidarity," and that the DCA needed to recognize "we aren't going to stand for racism."

Protesters came from off campus as well. Maria Gallegos, a nurse, heard about the protest from Facebook.

Students from Northern Illinois University (NIU) drove into the city for the protest as well. Erica Sanchez, a communications major who organized a student walkout at NIU on May Day in support of immigrant rights, said, "Borders are only created to criminalize the people who cross them. They don't actually prevent people from crossing."

Inside the event, Simcox spoke to about 200 people. Only students were allowed in--and the DCA distributed "green cards" to their supporters to try to stack the audience with pro-Minutemen forces. But even so, the vast majority in the room was against Simcox.

As he began his remarks, four students held up "No one is illegal" placards. Others in the audience chatted on cell phones or read books, while Simcox suggested in his talk that some people supported immigration to keep illegal drug prices low.

Simcox then described the killing of an undocumented worker by a policeman as "doing the taxpayers a favor" by "exterminating" the man. Several students turned their chairs and backs to the stage. When he told the students not to listen to their liberal DePaul professors, several more turned their chairs around. As he went on, he was heckled.

While a lot of media attention was paid to the fact that the DePaul administration forced the DCA to pay an additional $2,500 for security, the administration went out of its way to "contain" the anti-racist opposition--first, by not allowing people from off campus to attend the actual event, and second, by putting a DePaul speaker on stage to counter Simcox, which made it appear to be a "balanced" event.

The DePaul professor who spoke against Simcox pointed out that the Aryan Brotherhood encouraged its members to join the Minutemen and got a standing ovation from more than 100 students. About 25 people applauded Simcox.

After the inside events ended and the picket outside wound down, protesters held an impromptu rally that included a discussion and debate about voting and grassroots struggle--and what it would take to beat back racist hate and win immigrant rights.

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