The overnight news is just in and the protestors are already thinning out. Though some do remain, the march on and occupation of Saint Louis University’s (SLU) campus is part of a longer and larger march through the streets of the St Louis area as part of #FergusonOctober.
These overnight hours, I suspect, have something to teach us about Public Rhetoric (a course I am currently teaching and of which I am thinking as I write this): not just the march itself as public rhetoric, but the rhetoric of how the march moved, how it came to campus, and how and why it stayed on campus. The people who stood and the tents that now stand around the clock tower reveal the complex workings of public rhetoric. Public rhetoric is best understood not as singular acts performed in singular moments, but rather as an ongoing flux of elements that momentarily emerge and cohere into discernable acts.
Here, in list fashion, are some of those elements (we'll be updating this throughout the coming week):
- This Economic Policy Institute Report on the public policy roots of Ferguson
- The shooting death of Michael Brown
- Ferguson October gather at Chaifetz Arena
- SLU’s Midtown Location
- SLU’s status as private property
- SLU’s prominent status in Midtown
- The Gates around SLU's campus
- SLU’s DPS
- Student status
- Student ID’s
- SLU policies on guests
- SLU’s Jesuit Mission
- President Pestello’s recent Inaugural address, which featured a renewed commitment to issues of justice surrounding events like those in Ferguson
- This Post-Dispatch Story
- This Washington Post Story
- This New York Times Story
- This NBC News Story (note inflammatory headline)
- This BizPac Review Story (note inflammatory headline and content)
- #OccupySLU and #SLU
- SLU’s decision to allow the protestors access to campus
- Interactions between students and protestors
- The President’s letter to SLU community in response to the march
- The arrest of Cornell West
- Teach-In at SLU
- Agreement Reached with #OccupySLU
- This Washington Post Story on Saint Louis County
All these and of course more, equally effective/affective elements. Our collective and individual sense of this protest, the meaning it creates, and the material impact it will have, emerge from the interaction of these elements. These interactions might very well conflict, cohere, or contrast with one another. For instance, President's Pestello's letter speaks to the security of the campus (reassuring students and parents, faculty and staff) as well as its mission, which some might see as in conflict with one another. The purpose of campus security could be seen as protecting students, staff, and faculty from outside harm; the purpose of the university's mission is to confront outside harms in order to promote justice. The letter, if viewed as a positive step (which, full disclosure, is how I read it), functions so, in part, because SLU is a private campus routinely patrolled by its own officers and, in many spots, enclosed by fences. In other words, that SLU could choose to allow the protestors on campus or not is far from insignificant. Indeed, the private nature of SLU's campus in concert with its relative prominence in Midtown St. Louis might very well be what drew protestors to campus.
More can and should be said here, and I hope to do so with my students here at SLU.