For everyone other than the distinguished panelists, the only free speech taking place was on stage, as there was no scheduled Q&A with the audience, and, as if to further screen dissenting views, the forum was for ASU students only. In an attempt to placate non-students the university set up a large video screen and sound system in the plaza outside of the journalism school, the screen streamed a live feed, this effort went largely unnoticed.
Admittedly our expectations for the protest were low, we arrived a little late and a small crowd of 50 surrounded a line of Phoenix police, who in turn were lined around a tiny group of anti-immigrant and pro-Arpaio demonstrators. Security was posted at the door, and organizers had given verbal commitments to respect Arpaio's freedom of speech and not disrupt the event. As one rally organizer stated in an interview with the Downtown Devil:
“We’re not going to roll out the red carpet and allow him to walk on our campus like he does in our communities,” she said.
The protesters plan to rally throughout the event but not to disrupt the conversation, Castro added.
“We are having the utmost respect as educated college students for him,” she said.
We were ready to abandon ship and head over to a nearby bar for some beers with comrades when it became clear that, aside from a plan some friends had to break out in song during the forum, we were trapped in another ritualized Phoenix protest. Unless... One of us took notice of open lobby and decided that if ASU would shut out those of us who were not students, or like others there who were students at one of the community colleges, or were too old, too young, or too poor, that we ought to just invite ourselves into the journalism lobby and take the damn thing over.
Inside anarchists initiated a speak out, asking anyone in the crowd with a story of racial profiling with any police agencies to come forward and share them, ten people did, including Yaqui and O'odham indigenous people. As the stories went on, a different scene played out in the First Amendment Forum, Latino student activists released a banner calling the MCSO out on racial profiling, and a group of anarchists prepared to intervene in an entirely different manner.
Back in the lobby, musicians from the The Haymarket Squares, the three piece radical bluegrass troupe, set up in the middle of the occupation and played a few songs, dancing and sing-a-longs followed.
While we partied downstairs, an affinity group put their plans into action and interrupted the Forum with their modified version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, prompting Arpaio to leave the stage. The group behind the singing has also put out a statement this week explaining their actions after there was some criticism over their use of "freedom of speech" silencing the Sheriff's voice. We at PCWC have had a good laugh at this hand wringing from these journalists, and we are so very proud of our comrades for shutting Arpaio down, we hope these escalations are a sign to come for those in the valley fighting for the freedom of movement for all.
Check out the video below from ASU's student news service, it's one of the few media outlets to acknowledge the lobby take over.