Protesters storm campus after Cantor cancels visit
Cantor's office was told Thursday that Penn could not ensure 'attendance policy'
October 21, 2011, 1:38 pm · Updated December 12, 2011, 4:38 pm·
Elizabeth Jacobs | DP
Amid Occupy Philadelphia protesters and discrepancies in the attendance policy, United States House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) canceled his Wharton Leadership Lecture slated for Friday, Oct. 21 at 4:30 p.m. Cantor had planned to speak at Huntsman Hall about income inequality.
“The Office of the Majority Leader was informed last night by Capitol Police that the University of Pennsylvania was unable to ensure that the attendance policy previously agreed to could be met,” Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon wrote in an email. “Wharton is a educational leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, and the Majority Leader appreciated the invitation to speak with the students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the UPENN community.”
His absence didn’t deter activists, however, who assembled inside and outside Huntsman.
“It appears [Cantor] doesn’t want to talk to the 99 percent,” said Jamie Mondics of advocacy group Keystone Progress, after learning of the canceled speech.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said the Division of Public Safety increased security efforts around the site of the protests and continued to monitor and adjust its presence throughout the day.
DPS spokeswoman Stef Karp estimated that about 500 demonstrators were at the protest.
Protesters entered Huntsman by force through Au Bon Pain and occupied the lobby, shouting chants such as “Eric Cantor, come out, come out wherever you are” and “We are the 99 percent.”
DPS officers “formed a human chain to make sure they couldn’t come into Wharton, into Hunstman,” past the lobby, Rush said.
As a precaution, DPS officers also went around to classrooms and group study rooms, locking them from the outside so no one could enter any rooms.
“As long as they don’t disrupt anyone, they’re allowed here,” said a DPS official on the scene.
“We gave them the opportunity to speak their piece,” Rush said.
The protesters eventually left on their own accord, and as of 4:40 p.m., no protesters without PennCards were in the building.
No arrests were made due to the protests, and Anne Gemmell — Fight for Philly political director and liaison to Friday’s protest coalition — worked with DPS to help ensure no violence would occur.
“I have nothing but the highest regard for Maureen Rush and Penn DPS,” Gemmell said. “They did everything they could to ensure the success of this event and also to ensure the safety of the Penn students.”
“This is just very shocking. I don’t know what to say,” College sophomore Kathy Liu said. She didn’t know that Eric Cantor was coming to speak, or that he had canceled the event as a result of the anticipated protesters. “And the fact that it’s in front of Huntsman…”
“Yeah, it’s definitely really ironic,” finished College sophomore Elizabeth Diggs.
As the protesters sang chants in call-and-response, most college students looked on in disbelief around the outskirts of the group.
Religious Studies professor Anthea Butler stood outside Huntsman Hall, armed with a smartphone and her camera. “I’ve known [about this protest] for a week, because I had been following Occupy Philly,” she said. She thinks most people didn’t know that this protest would be happening because everything was planned through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
“I think that’s the general consensus of Penn kids right now,” said Liu. “No one knows what’s going on.”
College sophomore Emily Hantverk, who was watching the protest with Liu and Diggs, added, “But this is all clearly having an impact.”
Others, however, weren’t as affected by the protest.
Wharton and Engineering senior Wilson Pulling was working a group project in Huntsman’s forum when the protesters entered the building. Pulling said the protests did not disrupt the project.
“It only interrupted [our meeting] in that I went outside to see it,” Pulling said.
College Republicans president Charles Gray was disappointed by the protest. It’s “unfortunate” the protesters are “highjacking this event and making it into something that’s a bit hostile,” the Wharton and College senior said.
Gray, a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, added that he doesn’t blame Cantor’s office for canceling his speech. “They have to respond to the extreme rhetoric that’s out there.”
The speech was scheduled several months ago and was to be open to members of the press and the Penn community.
Thursday night, however, the Office of the Majority Leader was informed that the first 300 people would be admitted to the lecture, regardless of affiliation to the University. All Leadership lectures are open to the public, according to Wharton spokesman Peter Winicov.
Friday morning, Cantor’s office learned of the anticipated protesters through press reports.
About 500 to 1,000 protesters affiliated with Occupy Philadelphia planned to march from City Hall to Locust Walk in front of Huntsman to protest Cantor’s presence, according to Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill.
Penn spokesman Ron Ozio said in a statement that Wharton’s speaker series “is typically open to the general public, and that is how the event with Majority Leader Cantor was billed. We very much regret if there was any misunderstanding with the Majority Leader’s office on the staging of his presentation.”
The statement continued, “Wharton deeply regrets that the event … has been canceled. The University community was looking forward to hearing Majority Leader Cantor’s comments on important public issues, and we hope there will be another opportunity for him to speak on campus.”
“I think it’s a shame that a speech at a university should not occur because of some fear that there will be skeptics and critics in the audience,” said English professor Al Filreis, who signed a statement expressing solidarity for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Filreis added, “Clearly, the reason he canceled was that he wanted to speak to a friendly audience, and not one that would ask him difficult questions.”
Grace Ortelere and Diksha Bali contributed reporting to this article.
This article was updated from its original version at 2 a.m. Monday.