Shouldn’t college students seeking knowledge–especially knowledge that might challenge their own biases–be encouraged? Not so, it seems, according to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign and the College Republicans of Kalamazoo College. When seven sophomores at the school showed up at Wings Stadium in downtown Kalamazoo to see George W. Bush at a campaign rally on May 3 and presented the tickets they had obtained for the event, security officers would not allow them in. The problem, according to these students, was that College Republicans volunteering at the event fingered them as liberals who did not support Bush. And such citizens were not welcome at the rally.
According to Ted Hufstader and Julia VanAusdall–two of the Kalamazoo Seven–here’s what happened. Last week, the students heard that Bush would be appearing at Kalamazoo during a bus tour through the swing states of Ohio and Michigan. Hufstader maintains that this group of friends, which was made up mostly of Bush detractors (some of whom have engaged in protests in the past), only wanted the chance to see and hear the president. They were, he says, not interested in waging any anti-Bush action. “We wanted to get a better idea of what he’s like,” Hufstader notes. “All we get are little soundbites on the news.” And he points to the fact that one of the seven was an international student as evidence of their sincerity: “We would not have done anything to jeopardize this student’s standing in the country.”
So Hufstader hit the Internet and discovered that tickets for the Bush rally would be handed out at a local Chamber of Commerce office. (“The tickets are free and will be distributed on a first come first serve basis,” the chamber’s website reported.) Last Friday morning, he and Lisa Dallacqua arrived at that office at seven in the morning and waited–in the rain–for two hours. Inside, they were asked to show a photo ID and to provide their addresses–and the addresses of several friends for whom they were obtaining tickets. “We later heard that some people who wouldn’t declare they were Republicans were denied tickets,” Hufstader says. “But we didn’t see that happen.” Hufstader and Dallacqua were given seven tickets, and their names and the names of their friends were placed on a list that would be checked at the rally.
When the gang arrived at Wings Stadium–home of the Kalamazoo Wings, a minor league hockey team–they had to pass through a series of checkpoints. Hufstader maintains they were each dressed conservatively–“you know, khakis and sweaters”–and sported no political buttons or any other accouterments of dissent. At one of the checkpoints, they were spotted by a member of the College Republicans. He was familiar with the political predilections of several of these students and asked how they had received tickets. “We stood in line,” Hufstader says he replied. At another checkpoint, Hufstader and his friends saw several College Republicans talking to the volunteers working security. The security people then told Hufstader, Dallacqua, VanAusdall and the others (Laura Lonneman, Leah Busch, Shanna Barkume, and the international student whose identity Hufstader and the others are currently protecting) that they could not enter. “They told us,” Hufstader says, “that we failed a background check, that we had been identified by volunteers as a potential threat, and that if we didn’t leave we would be arrested.”