Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The times, they are a-changing

News was made at a commencement speech, not at Harvard, but at a small town in Rockford, Illinois, in a sort of man-bites-dog story:

ROCKFORD — New York Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College’s graduation because he gave an antiwar speech.

... Hedges began his abbreviated 18-minute speech comparing United States’ policy in Iraq to piranhas and a tyranny over the weak. His microphone was unplugged within three minutes.

Voices of protest and the sound of foghorns grew.

Some graduates and audience members turned their backs to the speaker in silent protest. Others rushed up the aisle to vocally protest the remarks, and one student tossed his cap and gown to the stage before leaving.

It made the national news. Hedges was quoted on Fox News saying that:

"he had given similar talks at several other colleges on his book, but had never had such a response.

"I was surprised at how vociferous it was and the fact that people climbed onto the podium," Hedges said.

Elinor Radlund, who attended the ceremony, said a woman beside her began singing "God Bless America" while a man rushed down the aisle shouting, "Go home!"

Even the Chicago Sun-Times carried it, in a descriptive paragraph that spoke volumes:

A New York Times reporter cut short a keynote address to graduates at Rockford College over the weekend after audience members shouted down his comments about the war in Iraq. Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of a recent book that describes war as an addiction, was booed Saturday at the small, private, liberal arts school 80 miles northwest of Chicago. After protesters rushed the stage and twice cut power to the microphone, Hedges cut his speech short. Many audience members turned their backs on Hedges while others booed and shouted, said college President Paul Pribbenow, who at one point pleaded to let the speech continue. Hedges said he had given similar talks at several other colleges on his book, but had never had such a response.

Chris Hedges is 42, and may have no memory of an adage that everyone who lived through the 1960s remembers: 'You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.'