Occupy Chicago planning protest of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s campus speech

Patrick Svitek

One of the country’s most powerful Republicans is speaking on campus this week, but don’t expect the usual barrage of Facebook event invites and sidewalk flyers.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will deliver a speech titled, “A Fair Shot at the American Dream and Economic Growth,” 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday at the Kellogg School of Management’s Allen Center, 2169 Campus Drive.

Kellogg spokeswoman Megan Washburn confirmed the event details Tuesday evening, attributing its low-key marketing to concerns about the venue’s size. She said the Allen Center is already “reaching capacity” after RSVPs began pouring in last week for the Kellogg-only lecture.

“It’s targeted to the Kellogg community specifically,” Washburn added, specifying Kellogg student IDs will be checked at the door.

But some who heard about Cantor’s address Tuesday suggested another motive for the University downplaying the congressman’s appearance: Not wanting to attract the same type of mass opposition that contributed to Cantor canceling a similar address at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday.

He scrubbed the same lecture at UPenn’s Wharton School after Occupy Philly protesters invaded the Ivy League campus. A statement from Cantor’s office chalked up the sudden back-out to a misunderstanding of the attendance policy, which the congressman thought would allow only school-affiliated spectators.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reported as many as 1,000 demonstrators had planned to gather outside the speech location.

The Kellogg flyer was forwarded to Occupy Chicago’s outreach listserv Tuesday afternoon by friends of Chicago-based progressive activist Sharon Sanders.

Graduate student Debbie Goldgaber, an Occupy Chicago participant arrested outside Grant Park earlier this month, said it may be difficult to gauge how many protesters will show up Friday in Evanston. She added nothing official has been organized yet but Occupy demonstrators are well aware of the upcoming speech.

“It’s on a Friday and not everyone knows about it, so it might just be a free-for-all,” Goldgaber said. “How disruptive they’re going to be – I don’t know.”

Washburn acknowledged a potential protest but said the speaking engagement was organized several months ago and its promotion has not been influenced by any hints of opposition.

University spokesman Al Cubbage expressed more vigilance about a repeat of the UPenn fiasco.

“The University is preparing for the possibility of a demonstration occurring in conjunction with Rep. Cantor’s speech,” he wrote in an email Tuesday night.

Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon declined to comment on an Occupy protest hindering the congressman’s lecture when contacted Tuesday evening. She did, however, say Cantor is “looking forward to speaking with students at Kellogg.”

Regardless of the protest’s scale, both Goldgaber and Sanders emphasized an effective display of dissent, not animosity.

“I can tell you there’s nothing planned other than something peaceful,” Sanders said. “We’re just saying, ‘We don’t agree with what you stand for.'”

To Sanders, that contentious point is what she describes as the “corporate ownership of America” and Cantor-backed policies that allow it to continue.

Goldgaber said any on-campus demonstration must toe the line between respecting Cantor’s freedom of speech and nonproductively “drowning it out.” She described the protesters’ goal as sending a strong message but not preventing Cantor from sharing his respective beliefs.

“If we don’t let him talk, nothing happens,” Goldgaber said. “Then there’s no conversation at all.”

For city resident Jack Sigel, the Cantor visit provides another opportunity to grow his Evanston-based Occupy effort.

The board member of Chicago Peace Action Network spent 10 days protesting on his own outside Chase Bank in downtown Evanston before gaining 20 new demonstrators Friday night.

Sigel agreed with Goldgaber that the University may be keeping quiet about Cantor’s visit to avoid possibly detrimental protests. He recalled hearing about a Cantor lecture at Northwestern earlier this month but not knowing for sure whether it was officially slated.

“Now that we know when and where he’ll be, there will be people there,” Sigel said of recruiting Evanston-based demonstrators.

On Tuesday evening, Washburn defended the event’s format against Sigel and Goldgaber’s claims the University may be purposely under-marketing it.

There will even be overflow seating in a separate room for Kellogg students unable to RSVP on time, Washburn said. Cantor’s speech will also be videotaped and posted on the Kellogg website.

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