Can a protest be polite?

Pro- and anti-Vietnam war demonstrators await Rusk's visit

In my last post I discussed the controversial Dow Chemical Sit-in, which served as a catalyst for student anger against the administration.  Today I have a short post about an event that, at the time, was seen as far more important than Dow recruiters being on campus.  Public reaction to protesters at the two events was also markedly different, which begs the question; can one protest an event or person without violating societal decorum?

Rusk speaks while IU President Stahr looks on

 

On October 31, 1967, just a day after the disastrous sit-in at the IU business school, United States Secretary of State Dean Rusk arrived on campus to give a scheduled speech.  As a major shaper of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy, Secretary Rusk was a natural target for anti-war protests on many campuses he visited.  In the lead-up to his visit, leaders from a number of different left-leaning student organizations on campus worked fervently to plan an organized protest. Flyers and signs were created and handed out prior to Rusk’s speech.  Outside the auditorium, demonstrators (both students and some professors) carried anti-war signs.  These were met by even greater numbers of administration supporters carrying signs of their own.  Inside the packed venue, around 200 protesters wore “peace” armbands and heckled Rusk with cries of “Liar!” and “Murderer!” at key points in his speech.

Anti-war protesters hold up "Peace" armbands during Rusk's speech

Unlike the chaotic Dow Chemical sit-in of the day before, the protest went off without a hitch, with no physical confrontations or arrests.  Public reaction to the demonstrators was decidedly negative, however, as students, professors and townspeople alike felt that the heckling during the speech had crossed a serious line of decorum.  Midwestern values notwithstanding, members of the New Left would continue to use confrontational tactics in the years to come to protest against American involvement in Vietnam.

 

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