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News ::
Ari Fleischer Met With Protest at Middlebury College (english)
15 Oct 2002
Modified: 16 Oct 2002
MIDDLEBURY — Presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was welcomed back to Middlebury College Sunday with an alumni achievement award and standing ovations inside the college chapel, and large and loud protests outside.
Fleischer is Met with Protest by Ed Barna
Barre-Montpelier Times Argus (Vermont) , October 14, 2002

MIDDLEBURY — Presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was welcomed back to Middlebury College Sunday with an alumni achievement award and standing ovations inside the college chapel, and large and loud protests outside.

Fleischer’s presence on campus sparked a protest march through downtown Middlebury that brought opponents of the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq from all over Vermont and beyond. By a sideline count, about 880 people wended their way along Main Street and up the hill to Mead Chapel, Middlebury College’s largest gathering space. More...

There, they were joined by hundreds of college students to form a crowd that sang and chanted and shouted slogans before, during and after Fleischer’s award and speech on “The Presidency and the Press.”

Ben Gore, a Middlebury College junior who has been active in the local group, United for Peace, said his group’s count of the people outside Mead Chapel reached 1,500.

“We were expecting maybe 500, which I thought was optimistic,” Gore said. “This is beyond belief.”

Before Sunday night, Gore wondered whether a protest movement could have a practical effect on American policies on Iraq.

“With 1,500 people from all across the economic and age spectrum showing up at a little town in the middle of Vermont, I think it’s practical,” he said.

One group of three protesters, dressed as cows, said they were actually commercial fishermen from Washington state. They learned about the protest from friends in Middlebury and thought it important enough to come, said one of those carrying the sign “We Need An Udder President.”

But inside Mead Chapel, a very different atmosphere prevailed. Partly that was from the presence of many staunch Republicans, among them congressional candidate William Meub.

But also, it reflected college president John McCardell’s firm insistence on civil discourse that reflected all points of view.

Fleischer deserved his turn, McCardell said, just as the college had previously heard from others, including Scott Ritter, the former Iraq weapons inspection team head who opposes the war.

A college must further the “sifting and winnowing by which truth can be found,” McCardell said. That implied not only the freedom to speak, but also the freedom to listen, he said — a point that seemed supported as the great majority of listeners ignored hisses, shouts of “Shame” and bouts of yelling.

Fleischer said the position of press secretary, which serves both the president and the press, is one of those institutions that makes American democracy possible. It’s a demanding task, he said, in an environment in which casual remarks like one about getting rid of Saddam Hussein perhaps costing no more than one bullet can become major incidents in themselves.

Fleischer said, “That isn’t a statement of administration policy,” which does not support assassination. His poorly chosen words were only meant to suggest that the people of Iraq could themselves change their government, and Saddam Hussein would not be much missed if they did.

Fleischer insisted that Bush has by no means made up his mind to start a war. Just as President Kennedy’s tough stance on Russian missiles in Cuba made it unnecessary to make a pre-emptive attack there, Bush’s stance is meant to avoid a pre-emptive attack rather than start one, he said.

Asked about American policy in regard to the Israelis and Palestinians — a touchpoint for attitudes throughout the Islamic world including Iraq — Fleischer pointed out that Bush had come out in favor of a Palestinian state. He promised that “very interesting things” would soon be coming out in regard to the Palestinian Authority, which Israel has said has failed to come to terms with terrorism under Yasser Arafat.

As for alleged popular discontent with Bush economic policies, he said the actual polls show “the country is very evenly split.” He recalled that when he left Middlebury College in 1982, for a succession of positions as a Republican spokesman, the unemployment rate had been 10.8 percent, rather than the 5.6 percent some people complain about today.

But Fleischer did little to convince his opponents.

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski of Wells, a leader in Green Mountain Veterans for Peace, said it was hard to make comparisons with the Vietnam era, but there was definitely a strong popular movement in progress.
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please post photos of Fleischer protest (english)
16 Oct 2002
for inclusion in the anti-war protest documentation archive:

www.dbr.nu/noin/