Left Justified: The return of Chris Hedges

Speakers getting booed off Rockford stages doesn’t happen too often. I think some pro-slavery yahoos threatened Frederick Douglass when he spoke here in the 1850s. There were enough abolitionists (anti-slavery activists) to keep the conservatives at bay. Back then, liberals were pro-gun.

I think famed attorney Clarence Darrow was attacked by the conservative media when he came to Winnebago County to defend more than 100 “radicals” that had been arrested during the notorious Palmer Raids in 1920. I believe he won his case, and the majority of them were freed.

But three years ago, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent for The New York Times was booed off the Rockford College podium while giving a commencement speech titled “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.” That is the title of one of his many books. It may have been inappropriate for a graduation ceremony, although I think the audience was so pro-war they didn’t mind disrupting the kids’ program to heckle the speaker.

Hedges will be returning to the Rock River Valley Monday, April 10. He will be speaking at Wilson Theatre, Mayer Hall, at Beloit College. The program is free and open to the public, and I suggest if you want to raise a ruckus (or find out more info), you do so by calling (608) 363-2625. But otherwise, those of us who would like to understand why war seems to be a force that gives our society meaning, would like to hear him.

Hedges will bring his sharp analysis and provocative understanding to the moral and emotional issues surrounding this war we have in Iraq. He draws on his experiences as a journalist, covering conflicts in Bosnia, El Salvador and Israel.

Hedges will also reference The Illiad, Shakespearean plays and Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. Yes, that’s heady stuff, and maybe the parents of Rockford College’s crowd could not understand where the speaker was coming from. I hope the Beloit College students are more erudite. If any of the Rockford crowd wishes to travel across the border to incite intelligence, they might do well to read up on Christopher’s work before they attend.

Things have gotten better. Now, instead of throwing dynamite, some right-wing protesters just pull the plug at the speaker’s podiums. I heard a story about a union meeting here on Seventh Street (where my new office is located); someone tossed a lighted stick of dynamite through the doorway of the Industrial Workers of the World Hall (yes, there were Wobblies in Rockford).

So the story goes, a young boy spied the lit explosive as it was rolling along the floor, picked it up, and threw it out an open window. It exploded in the alleyway, doing damage to the exterior of some of the buildings, but killing no one.

That’s how the corporate structure dealt with union organizers at the turn of the last century. Yes, we’ve come a long way since then.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the April 5-11, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!