Local 'progressives' plan to protest Trump commencement at LU

Students are eagerly anticipating President Trump’s upcoming commencement speech at Liberty University, so local residents are stepping in to supply the vitriol.

According to the The News & Advance, members of the Seven Hills Progressive Society are planning to hold a “Trump’s Non-Welcoming Committee” demonstration just outside one of the main entrances to the university Saturday morning for four hours leading up to the start of the commencement ceremony.

“Honestly, we have deep ideological differences with Donald Trump and with Liberty University to be honest,” said Nick Castanes, the chairman of Seven Hills. “We want to make sure there is a voice of dissent to at least send a message through the media.”

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“We stand in opposition to Donald Trump’s oppressive policies and divisive rhetoric,” a flyer advertising the protest proclaims.

“We condemn Liberty University’s support of his administration,” it continues, ending on a note of grandiosity with a call to “Join us in showing President Trump and the rest of the world that not all of Lynchburg stands for hate.”

“This protest is a non-violent act of civil disobedience directed toward the Trump administration, and his presence in Lynchburg, Virginia,” states a Facebook page for the protest. “It is our goal to send the message that even in Lynchburg, Trump is not going to find a space without dissent.”

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., who endorsed President Trump in the primary, is excited about the address, noting that the event is a significant moment in Liberty’s history.

“It’s something not many schools can boast about,” Falwell told the News & Advance earlier this week, adding that “we just want to make it comfortable and for it to go as smooth as possible.”

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Although the protesters say that they will not be “disrupting the graduation in any way, shape, or form,” and are “simply exercising our First Amendment right to free speech,” some students are still worried that their plans will disrupt the ceremony.

“I'm all for people exercising their rights to free speech—in fact I would normally encourage peaceful protests—however, this is a graduation ceremony, a day where students celebrate years of hard work and special accomplishments together, and I think that the protestors should keep that in mind,” graduating senior Amanda Kieffer told Campus Reform. “Adding to the chaos is really more disrespectful to the graduates and their families than it is effective as a protest against Trump.”

LU students have earned praise for their respectful treatment of high-profile liberal speakers in the past, including Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine.

The protesters plan on parking at the nearby Central Virginia Community College’s lower parking lot, although CVCC Police Chief Russell Dove notes that they will have to park there as individuals, because the campus will not be offering space for people to protest.

“If they park there as an individual, they’re an individual parking there,” Dove stated matter-of-factly.

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Conversely, the Lynchburg Democratic Committee will be conducting a day of community service during the address as a way to register its disapproval without interfering with the commencement proceedings.

"We feel strongly in education and regardless of who the Commencement speaker is, going to protest a graduation simply stands against our values,” explained Lynchburg Democratic Committee Vice Chair Maria Childress, who acknowledged that “this is a big day for the students.”

Liberty University’s commencement regularly draws around 35,000 guests, although this year the number is expected to be much higher.

Associate Registrar for Operations Lori Baker said that she hopes things will go smoothly, but advised attendees to show up as early as 6:00 a.m., rather than waiting until 10:00 a.m. to arrive on campus.

“My goal is to not only make sure that it’s a great program and great event but that our graduates and our guests have a great experience when they come to the stadium as well,” Baker said, noting that there will be food trucks, a bathroom trailer, and even a wireless signal-booster to accommodate early birds during the hours they will spend waiting for the event to commence.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice