Despite protests from activists against the war in Iraq, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., delivered a warmly received lecture about female leadership in Meehan Auditorium Saturday night, urging students to become more active in political discourse.
The former first lady, delivering the inaugural lecture of the Doherty-Granoff Forum on Women Leaders before a crowd of over 3,000, also criticized the Bush administration for its "extraordinary claims of executive power" and other domestic and foreign policies.
Clinton's speech was somewhat marred by a disruption from anti-war protesters. Seven minutes into her speech, an unidentified man stood up on his chair and began shouting.
"Is it leadership to support the war?" the man yelled at Clinton, referring to her votes to authorize and to continually allocate funds for the American invasion of Iraq.
He was joined moments later by a few other protesters who chanted anti-war slogans and unfurled a banner that read, "Clinton War Senator."
Clinton ignored the hecklers and continued her speech. The initial protester was eventually escorted from the auditorium by Department of Public Safety officers. The others were either escorted out or left on their own accord. Still, it took about five minutes before the disturbance was quieted.
The protests appeared to have little effect on the audience's support for Clinton. The senator received a standing ovation from the near-capacity crowd upon her introduction and at the conclusion of the speech, in which she urged women to become more involved in politics.
"Women have to be at the table," she said. "Women have to be part of every decision-making process. That means, especially beyond our borders, anything we can do to promote and support women accepting responsibility for their own lives and playing a role in the larger society has to be one of our highest priorities."
Clinton also spoke about the failures of President George W. Bush's leadership, quoting satirist Stephen Colbert: "Instead of making decisions from the facts, our leadership makes facts from the decisions."
In particular, Clinton attacked the Bush administration's failure to prepare for Hurricane Katrina, calling it "a massive failure ... unworthy of America." She also critiqued its contributions to the national debt and its alleged failure to adequately address global warming concerns. She blamed the loss of 2.8 million domestic manufacturing jobs within the past five years on Bush.
"The administration has basically told our auto companies and auto suppliers and the one in 10 American jobs that are connected to them, 'You are on your own,'" Clinton said.
Clinton urged students who are discontent with current leadership to bring about change by voting and running for office.
"We have a system of government, a constitutional democracy, if we can keep it against the most extraordinary claims of executive power we have seen in our nation's history," Clinton said. "And if you agree that we need a new direction in our country ... the only way we get that is through the electoral process."
The reference to elections might have been a hint to the senator's own plans for the future. Considered the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential nomination, Clinton attended a fundraiser in East Greenwich before the lecture at which she raised $150,000, according to an article in Sunday's Providence Journal. In all, Clinton has raised over $21 million, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. This figure far surpasses any other potential Democratic presidential contender. Though the money is officially pegged for her Senate re-election campaign, she is expected to be easily re-elected and can roll over unspent dollars for a presidential bid.
For the most part, Clinton's lecture was as well received by audience members as the speech given by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, last April, in which he also received multiple standing ovations.
"I thought she was a very good speaker," Jen Magalong '08 said. "She handled herself very well while people were screaming at her, and she acknowledged them at the same time and didn't get flustered."
But Magalong said she believes the heckling from the anti-war protesters was unnecessary, a sentiment echoed by several students.
"It was appalling, it was rude and I couldn't even understand what the guy was saying," Magalong said.
"I didn't like that they protested during the speech," said Neil Mahajan '08. "Do it outside."
But not everybody who attended the lecture was happy with Clinton's speech. Sureya Sayadi, a Kurdish-Iraqi doctor who now lives in California, wanted Clinton to address the war in Iraq.
After the lecture, Sayadi, who was wearing a bright pink shirt that read "No War" on the front, told The Herald, "I want Senator Clinton to pull out the troops out from Iraq, to not fund any war." She also accused Clinton, who is on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, of planning to add more military bases in Iraq with the goal of attacking Iran and of overlooking the abuse of Kurds by the Turkish government.
Sayadi added that she thinks the protest of Clinton during the speech was justified.
The Doherty-Granoff Forum on Women Leaders, co-sponsored by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, was founded this year by Michael Granoff and Ellen Doherty-Granoff '83. Before Clinton's lecture, the Granoffs said they hope the forum will serve, in part, to train the next generation of women leaders at Brown.
Man escorted from auditorium
The unidentified man who initiated the heckling of Clinton at her lecture in Meehan Auditorium Saturday night was escorted out from the building by Department of Public Safety officers and was not arrested, said Michael Chapman, vice president for public affairs and University relations.
The University has a set of policies for dealing with protests, which Chapman called "a necessary and acceptable means of expression at Brown." But he said the protesters' actions at the senator's lecture were out of line.
"Protests become unacceptable, however, when it obstructs the basic exchange of ideas, such as halting a lecture or debate or any public forum or trying to seize control of a forum, such as Senator Clinton's, for one's own purpose," he said.
Chapman said it took nearly five minutes to remove the initial protester, the most vocal of the activists, because University officials wanted to give him a chance "to comply with our policies."
The man was only removed after Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services David Greene, Associate Vice President of Campus Life and Dean for Student Life Margaret Klawunn and DPS officers tried to convince him to "be respectful of the rights of other people (listening) to Senator Clinton's speech," Chapman said. "And when that failed after repeated attempts to comply with policy, (Brown DPS officers) escorted him outside the auditorium when it became clear he would try to continue to disrupt the senator's speech."
Chapman said he did not know whether the other protesters were removed from the auditorium, but it appeared they were escorted out or left on their own accord.
As of press time, Chapman said it was unclear if any of the anti-war activists inside Meehan were affiliated with the University.
A representative of Rhode Island Military Families Speak Out, which organized the anti-war protest outside Meehan before Clinton's lecture, said in an e-mail to The Herald that the hecklers were unrelated to the group. One woman who held up the sign that read "Clinton War Senator" was identified as Heather Mello, who is not affiliated with Brown and is a member of the International Socialist Organization.