September 20, 2011
Visitors to the Wright Room on September 17th discovered something was very wrong. In honor of Constitution Day, Cowley College Media Club (CCMC) held a Free Food Festival, giving away fresh hot pizza slices to willing students. Sounds simple enough, but there was a catch: each student had to sign away First Amendment rights. As the crowd gathered to eat their delicious hot pizza, the 'goons' arrived to do their job: enforce the lack of rights of those who came to dine.
For the visitors to the Socialist Independent Northern Nation of Education-less Rhetoric States, all First Amendment rights were suspended. No bowing a head to pray or chatting with a neighbor, as freedom of religion and speech were prohibited. Those who wished to sit with friends were firmly disbanded by the goon squad, as freedom of assembly was disallowed. Complaints of unfair treatment were politely ignored, laughed off or met with sarcasm as the black-t-shirted goons let it be known there was no right to petition for redress of grievances. A gesture as simple as a smile, a hat full of clever sayings on little buttons and or a less than appropriate hand gesture were grounds for removal from the nation. Freedom of expression, the lifeblood of a college campus, was expunged.
Forty-eight students signed over their rights, braved the border guards manning the gate and entered the Rhetoric States to relish their cheese-coated lunch. Many did not stay after the constant harassment, but those who did said they learned a valuable lesson.
At first I was just playing a role, but when I got up to play the piano in the quiet room, the goons yelled at me, said sophomore, Rebecca Munoz, Act I Drama Club member. Music is a form of expression and it was promptly quieted. I never thought about someone being able to tell me I could not just play music. Members of Act I improvised behaviors to dramatize and draw attention to the lost rights, she added.
Sophomore Jordan Hill said he too learned from the experience when even when he was obedient there seemed to be a consequence. I was told to move twice and when I was away from all of my friends, I was told to move again. I told the goons I had moved twice and they let me stay, but I was no longer surrounded by those who had come in with me.
“It was a great opportunity for students to learn about what really is important in everyday life,” said CCMC sponsor and Director of Communications, Adam Borth. “I was very pleased with the turn out and the event in general. I look forward to making it even better next year.”
Constitution Day is Sept. 17 and it has been constitutionally mandated that it be recognized on federally funded campuses across the country since 2005.
“We have an amazing document that provides for fair and equitable treatment of the citizens of this nation,” said Meg Smith, CCMC sponsor and director of journalism. “This was a fun, interactive way for students to see what is special about the nation in which they reside. Although our rules in this scenario were over the top, it was meant to drive home the point: we should appreciate what we have because others do not enjoy all of the freedoms we do.”
The one-hour exercise was sponsored by CCMC, Academic Affairs and the Society of Professional Journalists as a reminder of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.