At UNC Charlotte, we have free speech codes that prohibit free speech outside of 2 “zones.” Our chapter wanted to do what we could to not only educate students and bring awareness about these zones, but we wanted to use civil disobedience to not only challenge and protest them.
We first came up with the idea of having a frame which we could move around campus. Sturdy enough to stand on its own, but mobile enough for two people to be able to move. We decided to go with a 1-inch PVC (Schedule-40) frame, rather than going with the traditional wooden frame. The thicker PVC ensured that it would be able to hold the weight of the vinyl banner and any gusts of wind sent its way, but be light enough to be carried around.
We decided to experiment between hanging the banner inside a slightly larger frame, or cutting the PVC so that we could zip tie the banner to the frame.
After a few trials, we decided using zip-ties to secure the banner to the frame was the best course of action.
While we adjusted the frame size, our more artistic members went to work on the lettering of the banner.
We started out the day by setting up the Free Speech Wall inside the first free speech zone, just to get some of the newer chapter members comfortable passing out constitutions and meeting flyers before going outside the zone.
After about 15 minutes, we made our first move outside the free speech zone.
We engaged other students by first asking them if they were aware of UNC Charlotte’s free speech zones. None of the students we talked to that day were even aware that their first amendment rights were being suppressed.
Our demonstration caught the attention of some faculty members who were also unaware of the university’s speech codes.
We supplied each student with a pocket constitution, encouraging them to read them so that they knew their rights, along with a flyer to our meeting that night where we would be discussing the finer aspects of free speech.
The wall was very popular among most students, and at many points we had students queued up for their turn to express themselves.
We moved from that spot to in front of the library, whose staff has always been very strict on handing out flyers in and around the building.
Students were very excited by the wall and receptive to our message, and couldn’t believe the school actually had policies that would go as far as silencing student’s opinions.
We had a couple administrative staff come out to question why we were setting up there and what we were doing, but once we explained that we were practicing our right to free speech at a public university, they decided to leave us alone.
We then decided to move on to the Student Union, where groups that have petitioned in the past have been asked to leave, citing the free speech codes.
We collected over 100 signatures on our sign-up sheets, and our board was filled with hundreds and hundreds of student’s thoughts, ideas, and free expressions.
Our follow up meeting was a huge success! We had open discussion about free speech, with people from all kinds of backgrounds giving all kinds of points of view on why the first amendment is one that needs to be protected.
Young Americans for Liberty at UNC Charlotte brought a massive amount of awareness about our school administration’s unconstitutional behavior to a campus that was previously oblivious.Published in