There was tension in the air outside of Harbach Theater as students and community members begin filling the hall in anticipation of former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s speech entitled “Leadership in Challenging Times.” The first people to arrive on the scene were protesters putting up banners and posters, writing messages and accusations in colorful sidewalk chalk, and even passing out black eyeless hoods to any fellow student willing to join their cause.
Soon after the protesters, the Knox Republicans arrived to set up a booth passing out information and paraphernalia. Tension in the room rose as Knox Republicans and protesters stood side by side and put up posters on the outside of Harbach in what seemed like an intense wallpapering race.
Soon speechgoers showed up and lined up outside the theatre doors, which large signs informed them would be opened promptly at seven. As students and community members joined the Republicans and protesters it became clear that there were many different reasons people went to Harbach, and many expectations as to what the evening would bring.
Students like sophomore Adam Kent, freshman Kate Carsella and junior Polina Blintsovskaya said they were interested in coming to the speech because they simply wanted to hear the man speak. Kent said that he hoped to gain justification as to what Ashcroft thought about his time in office. It was also a productive form of procrastination, Kent said.
Blintsovskaya said she was interested to see how Ashcroft would behave in an atmosphere of students who “don’t like him at best and hate him at worst.”
Some Knox students went in order to show support for Ashcroft. Senior Chris Berger, another student at the head of the entrance line, called Ashcroft a representative of “the ideological diversity that this college is screaming for.”
When Berger was asked about what he expected of the evening, he said, “to hear a speech…. I’m not entirely sure on what… which will hopefully not be interrupted by the children of this campus.”
Before the speech had even begun Berger was disturbed by what he termed “the extent and nature of the protest.” Berger called the protesters outside the doors “childish, distasteful and wildly inappropriate” and explained that he respects their right to protest, but in return they need to respect his right to sit and listen. Berger was not the only student to have that reaction.
Sophomore Kent said, “This is all kinda sad and childish.”
Leigh Nygard, a local minister from Galesburg was also one of the first in line to the speech. Nygard said he wanted to see the speech because he admires Ashcroft for being “an honest statesman and a good Christian.”
Nygard said he expected “inspiration and insights into the government.”
Leigh also looked around at some gathering protesters and said he would expect some opposition from students, but he was disappointed. He pointed out that there have been many liberal speakers at Knox and not very many conservative speakers at all.