Protesters gathered outside the Oxford Union as Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, arrived to speak tonight.
The protest, which was organised by Oxford Migrant Solidarity and OUSU LGBTQ Campain with the support of Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) and It Happens Here, amassed a crowd of more than 60 protesters.
They gathered outside the Union whilst members queued up outside to listen to the talk. Among their chants were “This is free speech, that is a platform”, “Oxford Union, shame on you” and “Black Lives Matter”.
Chants continued once the talk had started, with protesters shouting “Get up, walk out”. Their chants could be heard from inside the Union chamber.
Lewandowski left the Trump campaign in June 2016, after having worked there for over a year, amid allegations he was fired, although Mr. Trump’s son Donald Jr. described the split as “amicable”. He was replaced by chief strategist Paul Manafort. His resignations followed allegations that he had forcefully grabbed a journalist, Michelle Fields.
The OUSU LGBTQ campaign said in a statement, “The LGBTQ Campaign stands in solidarity with all LGBTQ people, people of colour, Muslims, migrants and refugees, disabled people, women and anyone who fears hardship or violence under a Trump presidency. We strongly condemn the normalisation of bigotry and the legitimisation of those complicit in fascism and white supremacy, including Corey Lewandowski. There can be no neutrality in the face of fascism; by hosting Lewandowski, the Oxford Union is complicit in this legitimisation.”
Similarly, a spokesperson for Oxford Migrant Solidarity commented, “Oxford Migrant Solidarity recognizes that there can be no free speech for people living under threat of deportation, harassment, or assault. There can be no free speech for a student in a classroom when other students chant “build the wall” at them. Oxford Migrant Solidarity stands in support of those individuals whose voices are not heard on national television, those who do not receive invitations to speak at the Oxford Union.”
It Happens Here, a sexual violence awareness group in Oxford said in a statement, “As an anti-sexual violence campaign, It Happens Here vehemently opposes the Union’s invitation to Corey Lewandowski, who defended Trump when he bragged about sexual assault. Sexual violence is not a joke; sexual violence is not something that we should accept and normalise in this way; sexual violence happens every day and we must visibly and resolutely stand against it, and anyone who trivialises its severity.”
Cherwell spoke to a number of students both queueing and protesting outside of the Union. Sean O’Neill, OULC’s Press Officer who was protesting outside the Union building, told Cherwell, “The most effective way to oppose this movement and all of its variants in the USA and here is to make sure that it’s not normalised. We stand in solidarity with all who this victory has affected and will go on to affect.”
Nathan Wragg, a PPEist at Pembroke who was queuing to hear Lewandowski speak, commented, “I think that Trump’s election is probably one of the most monumental political events of my life. Lewandowski is the first guy from Trump’s real inner circle to speak in Oxford following his election, which is pretty massive to be honest.”
“I think it’s great that there’s a protest here and protesting against platforming is a great idea, but I do not think this is a platform so to speak. The vast majority in the room will be massively against him. I am interested to see how he reacts to some quite hostile questions.”
Nathan Chael, a student in Oxford on exchange from Stanford University, said, “From a neutral perspective of political analysis I think the talk could allow interesting insight into the psychology of the Trump campaign and the current American electorate, and I’m obviously in support of free speech. But as someone still angry and hurting after the election, I’m also fully supportive of those choosing to protest Lewandowski’s talk.
“His campaign’s practices were utterly repugnant, and I think I’d feel disgusted to sit in the same room with him and listen to him talk about how Trump pulled it off this soon after it happened.”
This is by no means the first incident of a protest against platforming outside of the Union. In February 2015 around 400 demonstrators took part in a protest against the French Front National’s leader Marine Le Pen’s speech at the Union, condemning her political views as fascist, anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, and Islamophobic. The protestors opposing Lewandowski used many of the same chants.
The event highlights the controversy surrounding no-platforming at Oxford University. Robert Harris, former president of the Oxford Union, recently commented independently on the Union’s Facebook event, “The argument about whether Lewandowski should be hosted by the Oxford Union most likely comes down to the classic disagreement about the extent [and] limits to free speech. If this is true, then it seems implausible that either ‘side’ is going to be able to persuade the other regarding Lewandowski’s particular invitation – both viewpoints are based on broad, deep-held, ideological beliefs.”
The Oxford Union Society has been contacted for comment.