We speak with author, environmental activist and professor, Terry Tempest Williams about how a public university in Florida cancelled her speech set for this month because they feared she would criticize Bush for his environmental policies. [includes rush transcript]
- Terry Tempest Williams, author, environmental activist and professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Utah. Her newest book is “The Open Space of Democracy”.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about another topic, also having to do with you. Recently, the President of a Florida Gulf Coast University personally canceled an appearance that you were about to make at that university on October 24th to speak and he indicated that he didn’t think that so close to an election that there should be such a partisan speaker on campus. Your reaction to this cancellation?
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: I think this is not only a breach of contract, but a breach of democracy. And those who stand to lose are the students. This was to be a talk, at the freshman convocation, their first experience to the life of the university. And, you know, I think democracy is always an insecure landscape and it feels less secure now. The irony, Amy and Juan, is that the book in question, The Open Space of Democracy, that is now in the hands of all the freshman as a common reader, this book is dedicated to Wangari Maathai. So the confluence of these events and how each of us influences another, and the seeds of dissent that are planted and rooted in the soils of peace, it’s all connected and that’s what I find so moving. I should tell you that I just received yesterday a letter from the students of Florida Gulf Coast University. They have created a bipartisan coalition, they have asked the president, William Merwin, of this university to rescind his decision in the name of democracy and freedom of speech at that university and they have invited me with their own authority to come to the campus on that designated day and I will accept their invitation.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course, in essence, Florida is a battleground state where the governor is the brother to the president; Jeb Bush. The president of the university said he did not have any outside pressure on this, but it’s interesting that several other universities have recently canceled; George Mason University canceled a speech by Michael Moore, as did California State University at San Marcos. So we’ve had several universities now suddenly canceling speeches by noted personalities with a fear [that they] might have anti-Bush messages.
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: That is to me what is so devastating and I think all of us, as Americans, should be deeply, deeply concerned about the erosion of our freedom of speech. If we can no longer count on our institutions of higher education to be the bastions and champions and protectors of freedom of speech, then where are we? No voice in this country is safe and any voice can be silenced and this is, I think, the great terror of this. And President Merwin made no bones about it. He canceled this, or excuse me, postponed this because, quite frankly, he said the Board of Trustees have all been appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. Our Board of Trustees have all been appointed by Jeb Bush; you have been critical of our president, his brother, and I have remained in power as the president of the university for 20 years because I didn’t do stupid things.
AMY GOODMAN: Terry Tempest Williams, I want to thank you for being with us. Author, environmentalist, professor of environmental studies at the University of Utah. Her latest book is called The Open Space of Democracy. This is Democracy Now!