Love and Inclusion Prevails at PIELC Protest

Protestors chanted in the EMU Amphitheater against Lierre Keith's presence at the PIELC Conference on campus. (Hannah Golden/Emerald)

Protestors chanted in the EMU Amphitheater against Lierre Keith’s presence at the PIELC Conference on campus. (Hannah Golden/Emerald)

from Earth First! Newswire

It was less an anticlimax than a warm reminder of the difference between safer spaces and trans exclusion.

With police stationed throughout the EMU Ballroom, Lierre Keith took the stage. The atmosphere was tense; attendees were required to check their bags at the entrance, and acquire tickets in advance. As Keith spoke, a large contingent of attendees quietly stood up and walked out of the ballroom.

The prejudices of the police-backed anti-trans agitators would not be justified or satisfied that night—there was no display of violence or anything that could be construed as destructive, nor would the police presence prove warranted.

A tripod stood outside of the ballroom in the outdoor amphitheater, welcoming the trans supporters and protestors. It stood for peace and safer spaces, adorned with a banner reading “Students [Heart] Inclusion.”

It was a long road up to today’s protest. In mid-February, a sign-on letter was released, featuring more than 30 important environmental groups, from local biodiversity organizations like Bark to direct action groups like Cascadia Forest Defenders, as well as national groups, Greenpeace and Rising Tide North America. The letter was followed by a statement of solidarity from the Civil Liberties Defense, a condemnatory statement against Lierre Keith’s transphobia signed by the University of Oregon’s student government, and multiple other letters from different student organizations.

Viewing the outrage at PIELC’s invitation to Keith play out, many onlookers expected a more dramatic display of dissent on the eve of Keith’s speech. In 2010, Keith was pied during a talk at an anarchist book fair in the Bay Area, due to her disturbing views not only against trans people, but against vegetarians as well. She promptly called the police in the midst of the anarchist gathering, stirring up even more controversy.

It is, then, no surprise that the police presence last night was so heavy. However, the decisive presence of law enforcement to support a keynote speaker against popular dissent exposed the hypocrisy of Keith’s “radical” stance, which relies on the full backing of state’s repressive apparatus even when delivered to what is otherwise supposed to be her main audience—all of this at an environmental law conference.

The difference between the tense, police-injected atmosphere inside and the peaceful, open, inclusionary environment outside created by the protestors, could not have been more telling.

Here is a nice article from the Daily Emerald that puts some finer points on the protest:

from the Daily Emerald

The EMU Ballroom was buzzing with the chatter of an anticipatory crowd minutes before controversial activist Lierre Keith took to the podium at the Public Information Environmental Law Conference on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Attendees were required to check their bags before entering, and security and police forces were standing by throughout all parts of the EMU Ballroom. Regardless of strong police preparation in case of a violent of rowdy demonstration, the event remained calm for all but for a quiet walkout during Keith’s performance and a rally in the EMU amphitheater.

“We haven’t had any problems so far,” Mike Schueller, manager of Starplex Crowd Management said. “Nobody has made any effort to act out in some sort of curious way. We’re just taking the necessary precautions for an event that gets this type of attention.”

According to Schueller, there were over 1,000 emails sent to the University prior to the event regarding Keith’s presence at the University of Oregon School of Law’s 32nd annual PIELC.

Before the event, protesters passed out fliers in the Ballroom just outside the auditorium’s doors. When Keith took the podium, there was only one ‘boo’ from the crowd, but as she began her keynote speech, throngs of people got up and walked out. From the ballroom, the procession moved to the EMU Amphitheater.

People congregated in front of a lone protestor, sitting atop a constructed tripod, high above the gathering. A banner below her read, “Students Love Inclusion.”

Many in the group of protesters —comprised mostly of LGBTQA groups, the Survival Center and Cascadia Forest Defenders— had previously petitioned the ASUO senate not to allow Keith to speak.

UO senior and Survival Center member Paige Corich-Kleim helped organized the protest rally. She was pleased with how the protest efforts went.

“This is the start of a bigger mission of making spaces more trans-inclusive,” Corich-Kleim said. “[Lierre Keith] is still talking and people are still listening to her.”

The group led chants like “Hey hey, ho ho, Lierre Keith has got to go,” and “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere,” from the Amphitheater while the author spoke within the EMU.

Tags: ,