Last week, Governor Charlie Baker was invited to speak at Tufts as part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series. The purpose of the event was to discuss public policy and civic engagement in an informative, conversation-style event. However, the event did not go as planned: around 60 students organized in three successive groups interrupted the event by walking out in protest of Baker and his policies.
Protest is a crucial form of civic engagement and a powerful tool for enacting change. Furthermore, the issues raised by the protests against Baker — immigration policy, police militarization and lack of funds for public schools — deserve the attention these protesters wanted to give them. The coordinated efforts required of the students who participated in the protests are impressive, and the visible and disruptive nature of the protests was more than effective at getting Baker’s attention, as well as other members of the Tufts community and Tufts administrators.
However, for some of the protesters, the protests were not only about the issues, but about Baker’s very presence at Tufts. After the protests, the Daily interviewed some of those who participated and some of those who supported the protests. One student said they did not want to “give a platform” to Baker and they wanted to “present Tufts as unified against Baker.” Another student said they felt as if “seeing [Baker] on campus and giving him a voice is saying that Tufts students are okay with the kinds of policies that a Republican administration is putting forward.”
There seems to be an opinion among those who supported the protests that having Baker speak on campus meant the Tufts administration endorses Baker and his policies. This ignores the very basis of debate and discussion in politics. Inviting someone to speak does not automatically mean that the two parties agree.
In some cases, it might be reasonable to protest someone’s presence at a public event, such as if the person promotes hate speech or encourages discrimination. But Baker does not fit that description. In fact, on several social issues, Baker is significantly more left-leaning than the majority of his Republican colleagues. He has repeatedly stated that he is pro-choice and supports women’s reproductive rights. During his electoral campaign to become governor of Massachusetts, Baker also became one of the only Republicans to support and protect LGBTQ rights and marriage equality.
It is true that his conservative policies, particularly in regards to undocumented immigrants and refugees, are worth criticizing, and Tufts students’ efforts to draw attention to these issues are commendable. But while direct action and disruptive protests can be effective ways to inspire change and influence politicians, there is also an important argument to be made for inviting speakers to campus with which the majority of the student body disagrees as a way to expose students to alternative perspectives. To protest as a means of pushing politicians and policymakers to take a stand on tough issues is one thing. But to protest the rights of these politicians to speak publicly at Tufts is a different story.