First Amendment Festival and College Civics Week turn the SURC into a ‘big top’ of student freedoms

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By ADAM WILSON, staff reporter

Instead of hosting College Civics Week and the First Amendment Festival separately, the Central Washington University Board of Directors Office of Legislative Affairs and Cynthia Mitchell of the communication department are collaborating to educate students about their right to vote and the freedoms the First Amendment protects.

Festival Chair Mitchell and intern Gracie Manlow are working with the communication department, history department, and the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement to plan for Central’s annual First Amendment Festival, which will take place from May 6 to May 9.

College Civics Week will take place during the same week, with intertwining events that range from activist movements to a free concert, featuring Hey Marseilles, held in the SURC Ballroom.

“I hope that people take away a new appreciation for the First Amendment,” Manlow, a senior public relations major said.

College Civics Week, hosted by the CLCE and the ASCWU BOD, as well as the Festival, are designed to facilitate an open conversation about the strong connection between First Amendment rights and civic responsibilities.

“We saw this as a great way for our groups to collaborate,” said Brianne Wood, ASCWU BOD vice president for legislative affairs.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman will be kicking off the state-wide College Civics Week tour in celebration of Central being awarded the College Civics Micro-Grant.

College Civics Week will begin with the Showcase of Action on May 6 at 11:30 a.m. in the SURC Mezzanine, and Wyman will speak in the SURC Theater at 12:30 p.m.

While the Showcase of Action will display the work the CLCE has done over the past year, its main purpose is to educate students about the importance of voting.

The showcase will also feature a display about the First Amendment and how the freedoms it protects are the foundation of civic engagement

“I believe if the student is not educated about an election coming up, they can’t come back and say ‘I didn’t want that to pass’ or ‘I did want that to pass’,” CLCE Program Manager Kimberly Jellison said.

In the afternoon, political columnist and New York Times best-selling author Glenn Greenwald will speak in the SURC Theater at 4 p.m.

His talk, titled “Under Fire: The War on Terror’s War on the First Amendment,” will detail the many freedoms that  have been eroded in the name of national security.

The final event scheduled is the College Civics Week Block Party, which begins at 5 p.m. on May 9, and features a free performance by Seattle indie band Hey Marseilles.  The band, which opened for The Lumineers on tour, has been very active in getting American citizens to register to vote, according to Wood.

“What’s great is having this atmosphere where you can listen to music and go visit tables about different ways of getting involved,” Wood said.

The BOD’s primary goal throughout the week will be registering students to vote.  Wood said they chose to partner with the First Amendment Festival because the ability to vote relies heavily on freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

“Students don’t realize the impact that they can have on certain decisions that the government will take,” said Cassandra DuBore, political science sophomore and candidate for ASCWU BOD Vice President for Legislative Affairs. “I hope they realize the impact they can make and get rid of voter apathy.”

Organizations from across campus and the city of Ellensburg will have tables at the Marketplace of Ideas throughout the week, which Manlow describes as an opportunity for the organizations to share thoughts about different issues.  Participating organizations include the College Republicans club and the Ellensburg League of Women Voters, among others.

As a class project, students from COM 202, Communication Ethics and the First Amendment, taught by Tobias Staab, will utilize their First Amendment rights to discuss issues they care about at the Marketplace. Topics range from gun rights to marijuana legalization.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the festival, history professor Brian Carroll and the students of HIST 144, United States History Since 1865, will reenact famous court trials that relate to the First Amendment.  These court trials include the Chicago Seven, which deals with the freedom to assemble, the Pentagon Papers leak, which covers the freedom of press, and the Lenny Bruce obscenity trial, which concerns freedom of speech.

“We had a whole range of things we could have chosen,” Carroll said. “We thought the First Amendment rights were very front and center in these trials.”

Carroll said he thinks students will be surprised at the events that unfold during the trials, particularly during the Chicago Seven trial.

“They mocked the judge’s clothing, they had outbursts of profanity,” Carroll said.  “At one point, one member was actually chained and gagged in the courtroom.  That will play well to an audience.”

Carroll also likened the Pentagon Papers trial to the current controversy over WikiLeaks, and said the Lenny Bruce trial will be filled with profane language.  Carroll estimates about 60 students will be involved in the three mock trials, with 20 students covering each case.

To get involved in the Showcase of Action, contact Jeanette Genson at [email protected]  For more information about the First Amendment Festival, contact Cynthia Mitchell at [email protected]


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First Amendment Festival and College Civics Week turn the SURC into a ‘big top’ of student freedoms