Community members organize to protest attorney general’s visit to Notre Dame
Mary Steurer | Monday, October 14, 2019
Dozens gathered at the intersection of Eddy Street and Angela Road to protest Attorney General William Barr’s visit to Notre Dame on Friday.
The protest, which took place from 4 to 5 p.m., was organized by graduate student Andrew Cary and local activist groups MoveOn North Central Indiana, Indivisible Indiana and Northern Indiana Atheists.
At its peak, the protest involved about 100 people, with demonstrators gathered on all four corners of the intersection. Nearly 1,000 people expressed interest in the event on Facebook.
During the protest, organizers passed out fliers and whistles in solidarity with the whistleblower who brought to light President Donald Trump’s conversations with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which led the House of Representatives to open an impeachment inquiry Sept. 24.
Barr was pulled into the inquiry after the New York Times reported Trump offered to have him help Zelensky discredit the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
According to the Department of Justice, Barr did not discuss the matter with Ukraine and was not aware Trump offered his help to Zelensky until months afterwards.
While the protest stirred south of campus, Barr delivered a talk on religious freedom to a full audience in the McCartan Courtroom. The ticketed event was open to students, faculty and staff of the Notre Dame Law School and de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture only.
The University did not publicize Barr’s visit, claiming limited seating. An email invitation sent to Law School students and staff asked that information about the event not be circulated.
The general public caught wind of the lecture when an anonymous community member distributed fliers about the event. Cary said he and the other organizers began planning the protest not long after.
“I was just posting in different groups about if there was going to be some sort of demonstration, and [MoveOn] reached out to me and offered for me to take the lead and just be the face, talk to the media, try to invite people,” he said.
Cary said though he supports the University’s open speaker policy, he believes it especially important that events with controversial speakers be open to the public.
“College is all about learning different things, hearing opposing viewpoints,” he said. “I don’t want this school to be a ‘safe space,’ or anything like that. If they really want the student body to be exposed to different opinions, and viewpoints and individuals, they should have these things be open to people.”
With no means of attending the lecture, however, Cary said protesting was the best alternative.
“I would have loved to have to have gone and listened to what he had to say, but since we don’t have that opportunity, we’re out here demonstrating against what the president and his administration are doing with this impeachment inquiry,” he said.
Laureen Fagan, a South Bend resident, said she joined in the demonstration out of a sense of civic duty.
“The rapid disintegration of what most of us have thought were our democratic values is shocking,” she said. “And this is basically not my scene — I don’t like to do this, and I rarely do. But I feel an obligation. If he’s appearing at the University today, and I live here in town, I feel an obligation to be present and to make clear that this is unacceptable.”
On Oct. 2, about 30 gathered to protest Barr’s visit to Wichita State University, the Wichita Eagle reported. Graduate student Maureen McDermott, who attended Friday’s demonstration, said she suspected Notre Dame refrained from publicizing Barr’s lecture for fear of similar backlash.
“I think they kind of were afraid of stuff like this happening,” she said.
Graduate student Laura Ortiz, who also protested, said she was disappointed with how Notre Dame handled Barr’s visit.
“This whole event was kind of kept hidden from us — it was very shady, no one really knew that it was happening,” she said. “We just learned about it a couple of days ago.”
Ortiz said Barr’s political track record should be a cause for concern for Notre Dame.
“We should be a community for the people, a community sharing love, compassion, and this person that they just invited doesn’t represent any of that,” she said. “If Notre Dame really wants to take care of its Christian community, why would you invite someone attacking our rights?”