The area quartered off for people to freely protest during the second presidential debate was located in the yard in front of Hagedorn Hall; it was a good distance away from just about everything, including the David S. Mack Sports Complex where the actual debate was being held. But this did not stop the various protestors from gathering and some interesting events from transpiring.
The first of the speeches from the various organizations began at 3 p.m. A sparse crowd gathered to hear the speeches from people such as Brett Linley, a representative from Hofstra Students for Liberty. His speech, filled with lines such as “the real winners [of this election] are Goldman Sachs, not the people,” was interrupted briefly by a crowd outside the gate wearing occupy and anarchy flags simultaneously. Another early speaker was John Dennie, a representative of Community and Postal Workers United. He screamed so loudly into the microphone about espoused enemies of the postal workers that many near the stage made a swift retreat.
As the afternoon progressed into the evening, the small crowd, holding signs that advocated for the return of troops from Afghanistan and the immediate impeachment of President Obama, were swallowed by a sea of pink clad men and women carrying signs that read “I Stand With Planned Parenthood.” They were all there to witness the speech of JoAnn Smith, the president of the Nassau County chapter of Planned Parenthood. Smith’s speech was contrastingly moderate to the earlier speakers, advocating simply that women and citizens learn the facts about candidate’s views on issues of women’s autonomy over their bodies.
By the time Smith had finished her speech, the zone had swelled to the largest capacity it would be all day. PETA made an appearance with an elephant outfit, followed by the group Jews Against Zionism. The worker’s rights group United New York took the stage, advocating “an economy that works for everyone.” One by one, they called up people who were or had been employed by companies associated with Bain Capital, an asset management firm tied to Mitt Romney. Each person told a personal story of their inability to receive a living wage from companies like Burlington Coat Factor and Dunkin’ Donuts. The speeches climaxed with the entrance of a grotesque puppet caricature of Bane, the villain from the recent summer blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises.” The group of advocates interacted with the puppet in a Q & A skit to try and drive home the points that UNY was attempting to make and make a villain out of Romney.
The crowd dispersed after UNY left the stage as niche interest groups like Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, Act for Sudan, and the climate change awareness group Pissed Off Polar Bears gave their speeches. The majority of the protest had moved out of the zone and onto the turnpike, amassing at the corner of California Avenue. Signs that advocated for Obama were held high next to Don’t Tread On Me flags fluttering in the wind. Conversation on an individual-to-individual level was more occurring where it was not in the free speech zone.
The crowds stayed a manageable level throughout the protest, making the excess levels of police officers in the zone and along the turnpike seem superfluous. According to Newsday, the protest at the 2008 debate saw the injury of an Iraq War veteran by a police horse with a resulting lawsuit. Nothing so dramatic occurred this year. It is worth noting, though, that the Green Party presidential and vice presidential candidates were arrested while attempting to enter the campus and were charged with disorderly conduct, according to Fox News. Katelyn Harrop, The Chronicle’s Assistant Entertainment Editor, witnessed a student, who wishes to remain anonymous, get his sign taken away from him.
“A Public Safety officer came up to me and told me that the Secret Service had been watching me for the past ten minutes. He gave me the choice of getting rid of it myself or receiving a summons,” the student said. “Then a member of the secret service told me it wouldn’t be good for the public to see the sign.” The sign simply read “Mitt Romney had an affair with my wife.”
Veterans of the 2008 debate remarked on the apparent differences between the protests of that year compared to this one. “The environment was more activist based. It’s more of a circus now,” commented Etana Jacobi, a former student and current employee of the University.
When the debate ended, the corner of California Avenue as well as the free speech zone was emptied of protestors. In the span of hours, protestors representing all sides of the political spectrum had convened in a flash of puppetry and incendiary signage, leaving no trace of themselves save for a few empty coffee cups and fallen signs.