June 8, 2005: On the Campus
By Ashley Johnson ’05
In May, six months after the presidential election, Princeton found its political voice. What began as one man standing behind a single wooden podium, holding a bullhorn that barely elevated his faint reading above an audible level, soon spiraled into a media frenzy on the Princeton campus.
Starting on April 26, the Frist Filibuster stirred the dormant political tempers of conservative, liberal, and independent students alike as individuals from the campus and community signed up to speak in protest of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist ’74’s proposal to ban judicial filibusters. After about 45 students headed by bus to Washington, D.C., on May 11, the 384-hour filibuster ended May 12 with a press conference in front of the Capitol.
The protest began small, almost as a joke, by Asheesh Siddique ’07, editor of the Princeton Progressive Review, an online and print campus publication. Siddique started the Frist Filibuster on the front steps of the Frist Campus Center, built with a $25 million donation from the Frist family, to raise political awareness of the debate over judicial nominees in the Senate. It dragged on overnight and surprised the student body by lasting until morning, despite rain and unseasonably cool temperatures.
Houseparties came and went, with students in formals tiptoeing past the filibuster site that would grow to include a tent for press, a live webcam, umbrellas to shield the filibusterers from the rain and sun, and, finally, a microphone that replaced the bullhorn. On the eighth day, MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews arrived for footage and interviews, drawing sign-wielding protesters and supporters alike as the filibusterers continued to read everything from the Constitution to coursework to Dean’s Date papers. Some students read their own poetry, as Octavio Carrasco ’05 did.
Joshua Weitz ’97, a visiting research
fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, spoke for the filibusterers. “This is not a partisan event,” he said into the microphone to the cheers of students and community members waving signs reading “Filibuster = Democracy.” “If nothing else, we’re raising awareness on campus and inviting students to use their right to protest by reading important historical documents,” Weitz said.
Karen Wolfgang ’05 stirred a moment of controversy by reading My Pet Goat, the story President Bush continued to read to schoolchildren in Florida when the second tower of the World Trade Center was hit on Sept. 11, 2001.
Dylan Hogarty ’06 bristled at the use of 9/11 in the filibuster setting. As president of the Princeton chapter of College Republicans, he called for a show of support during the Hardball taping. “We’re here to rally behind our chief,” he said as members of the College Republicans waved signs saying “Yea or Nay Without Delay” and pictures of President Bush giving a thumbs-up sign. “We need an up or down vote to be fair to our judges, our country, and our places with vacant judicial seats — this isn’t Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Hogarty said. Harrison Frist ’06, son of the senator, watched the protest for a while, declined comment, then left to finish his junior paper.
As the protest continued, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics Frank Wilczek *75, and numerous faculty members joined the students. Chuck Pennachio, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania, praised the campus activism: “The eyes of the world are on Princeton today in hopes that we not lose our basic rights—our right to dissent and our right to minority view.”
In past years, Princeton’s undergraduate community has undergone scrutiny for its lack of political passion, save for a few individuals such as Evan Baehr ’05, who ran unsuccessfully for a borough council seat in the fall. Alumni have noted fewer undergraduates using their fall break for its original purpose — to allow students time to campaign and support election candidates.
The spring of 2005 shows a turnaround, first with the packed lecture hall for Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda, and continuing with the Frist Filibuster. Students packed the walk on the lawn of Frist, waving signs and eagerly anticipating their turn at the microphone. Said USG President Leslie-Bernard Joseph ’06: “It’s about time.”
On the Campus Online: Click here to read “Immortality, survival, and the cost of graduation” by P.G. Sittenfeld ’07.