At UNC Charlotte, we have free speech codes that prohibit free speech outside of two “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 had tried using a free speech wall before, and while it was wildly successful, we wanted something more visible and fun to interact with. We decided to go with free speech balls.
Normally when student organizations organize free speech ball events, they have one ball that they roll around campus to help raise awareness for the ideas of free expression. We decided it was a good idea, but opted for a bolder plan.
We acquired one 12-foot and four 8-foot balls for our Speak Freely event, so that we could spread awareness to every part of campus and increase the number of people who interacted with the event. We made sure to have enough clipboards and signup sheets for the event, and worked out team schedules so everyone knew where they were supposed to be, and at what time. We also determined that we would need air pumps, since attempts at blowing them up by mouth proved ineffective.
Each ball was manned by three people. Two people would distribute sign-up sheets to students who supported the ideas of free speech, and the other person distributed the markers to the students who signed the sheet so that they could sign the ball.
When we approached students we first asked them if they were aware of UNC Charlotte’s free speech zones. Only one of the students (out of the thousands that we talked to that day) was even aware that their right to speak freely was being suppressed.
If they were open to the ideas of liberty, we would give them a flyer and encourage them to attend our meeting that night, and also let them know that if they had any additional questions about the topic that they were more than welcome to discuss them with us later that night.
We had about ten markers at each ball, but we often found that some of the balls would still get lines of people waiting their turns to sign.
The students we talked to that day were very receptive to the ideas we talked about, and were shocked that their school administration would do such a thing to their students.
We collected over 800 signatures in a matter of five hours. We quickly sent out a text to everyone signing that thanked them for their support, and invited them to come out to our exclusive screening of “Can We Take a Joke” that night. Thirty-nine people showed up to the screening, and many of them interacted in the speaker panel we held after the movie aired where we discussed the finer points of free speech.
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