Georgetown students protest the Petraeus protesters in Red Square

Protest not, lest ye be protested. Tonight, about twenty students gathered in Red Square to condemn the protesters who interrupted General David Petraeus when he spoke in Gaston Hall last Thursday. The students, two of whom held a large American flag for the duration of the counterprotest, read aloud and circulated a letter of apology to Gen. Petraeus and a letter to University President John DeGioia asking him to issue a formal apology to Petraeus for the disruption.

“A great injustice was perpetrated against General David Petraeus, those in attendance of his presentation, and the Georgetown community as a whole on January 21,” junior Will Downes said, reading the letter to DeGioia.

The letter to Petraeus, they said, was drafted in collaboration between several on campus groups, including the the Georgetown Federalist, the International Relations Club, and Georgetown University College Republicans. It asked that and that “university policy be altered so that it does not tolerate the constant and continuous disruption of university sponsored events.”

After the reading the letters out loud, members of the group engaged in some good old-fashioned oratory.

“How is it that a guest at our University could be subject to such disrespect?” Randy Drew (SFS ’10) asked, standing on the planter in the middle of the Square. Drew said the protesters were motivated by “the same spirit which motivates a person in the middle of the night to shout racial epithets, the same spirit which motivates a person to deny a professor the right to teach what he or she believes.”

Members of the crowd hissed softly when Drew mentioned the op-ed that James Reardon-Anderson, a dean in the School of Foreign Service, published in The Hoya comparing the actions of the protesters to Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read more, and the letters to Petraeus and DeGioia, after the jump.

Mike Desnick, a junior, lauded counterprotest organizer Jon Askonas (SFS ’13) for “gathering together those who agree with him to show that we will fight disrespect.”

“The kinds of acts perpetrated against Petraeus are disgusting,” Desnick said. He added that the protesters had disrespected those who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Askonas took his place on the planter to conclude the counterprotest, he pointed out that one of the Petraeus protesters was in the crowd and commended him for attending, because, “we are about dialogue that is constructive.”

The protester, Alkis Downward (SFS ’12), hopped up next to Askonas on the planter and addressed the crowd. Speaking to Randy Drew’s dissing of Reardon-Anderson’s op-ed, he said that he wanted to tell the students “how what we did was not the opposite of what [Martin Luther King, Jr.] did, but in fact very similar. He denied the right of crazy people to deny rights to people who were not white. And he did not point out that right by going and having a conversation with a white guy. People were out in the streets.”

After a few minutes, the crowd began to shift on its feet and clearly felt that Downwid had gone on speaking long enough. They overpowered his voice with a tide of “thank you”s, and one student shouted, “You’re doing it again!” but allowed him to finish.

The counterprotesters’ letter of apology to General Petraeus:

Dear General Petraeus,

We, the undergraduates of Georgetown University, sincerely thank you for coming to speak to us on January 21 in Gaston Hall. It was a great honor to have the opportunity to listen and learn from a person of your outstanding accomplishment.

The right to free speech and the right to protest are important parts of our university’s identity, but we also hold that along with those rights comes the responsibility to respect others. While we support a diversity of opinions, we do not support the disrespectful way that some students chose to express their views while you were speaking. We are embarrassed by their inappropriate conduct, and want you to know that it runs counter to the teachings of our university and the standards Hoyas aspire to live by.

Georgetown University is proud to be a place where thoughtful discourse and respect for the opinions of others are the norm. Your words here and your actions embody this tradition, and you inspire us with your dedication to civil dialogue. Thank you for your service to the United States, for your gracious handling of an embarrassing situation, and for taking the time to speak to our university.


The Georgetown Federalist, The Georgetown International Relations Club, Georgetown University College Republicans, Georgetown University Republican Women, Hoyas for Liberty, Hoyas for Respectful Dialogue, and the students of Georgetown University.

The petition to President DeGioia:

To John J. DeGioia, President, Georgetown University:

We, the students of Georgetown University, having dedicated ourselves to the pursuit of truth through our education, seeking to develop our character and ideas through reasoned debate and the open exchange of ideas, resolve:

– Whereas freedom of speech is a right inherent to all individuals, and this right must command the highest respect and be regarded with the greatest solemnity.

– Whereas a free and open university requires that all persons be given equal opportunity to express their views without fear of intimidation and reprisal.

– Whereas all persons invited to this university ought to enjoy the privileges and respect accorded honored guests, regardless of their status or political persuasion.

– Whereas any disruption intended to silence the views of any person, regardless of status or political persuasion, is morally wrong and an affront to free dialogue.

– Whereas actions which impinge upon the dignity of all those associated with the university.

– Whereas eloquence, and not bullying nor coercion, is the surest means of challenging injustice and securing liberty.

– Whereas no authority nor group of persons may abrogate these principles arbitrarily.

We hold, for these reasons, that a great injustice was perpetrated against General David Petraeus, those in attendance of his presentation, and the Georgetown community as a whole on January 21st, 2010, and that these actions demand condemnation and action from this community.

Therefore, we the undersigned, request that the following actions be taken:

– That university policy be altered so that it does not tolerate the constant and continuous disruption of university sponsored events.

– That all guests of the university be provided a respectful and orderly forum to present their ideas, regardless of their content.

– That all students be provided and encouraged to engage in courteous dialogue at said events and to respectfully present their ideas, regardless of their content.

– That Georgetown University issue a formal apology to General David Petraeus for the violations and indignities perpetrated by a number of its students against him.

– That the perpetrators of these violations and indignities issue an apology to the Georgetown community.


Photo by Jackson Perry.

16 Comments on “Georgetown students protest the Petraeus protesters in Red Square

  1. An amazing article about what happened. However, I am disappointed with how it characterized the response to Mr. Downhid’s interruption. There were several in the crowd who insisted that he be allowed to speak when he was “overpowered”, and he was allowed to finish his remarks.

  2. Just a clarification: what Will Downes read was a petition, and section quoted in this article is from that. The letter which has been sponsored by other groups does not contain that language, and I do not know if they would endorse it, so a correction would be appreciated. Thanks :)

  3. You’re really getting nitpicky because she called it a letter and not a petition? Reading over this ridiculously self-important *petition,* I guess I’m not surprised…

  4. Thanks willowsden. You’re right, I should make clear that he finished—although crowd support for that was pretty darn slight.

  5. i’m still shocked that Georgetown students are more upset because a group of students read the names of murdered Iraqi and Afghani citizens to the man who presses the buttons in this video game war. how can they be more concerned that Petraeus’ drinking jokes were interrupted than by the masses of hundreds of thousands of murdered civilians and millions of displaced peoples, not to mention billions in money siphoned to western corporations…

    This is a terrible, colossal moral failure.

    If you are so concerned about individual liberties, where are you when racist, sexist, homophobic, or violent actions are protested on campus? When this war is protested? It seems your business is more to protect the rights of your privileged peers to horde your privilege and hegemony, than to truly be concerned for our collective and individual freedoms and wellbeing.

    This is what embarrasses me… it is so plainly Georgetown for students to make a fuss about people asserting minority voices than about the real injustice in the world… see the connection? Its a vicious cycle… and that makes me ashamed to be a Hoya.

  6. Anamolous:

    I think the majority of free speech advocates condemning the disruptors, myself included, are not concerned about what viewpoint they were espousing. I would think almost everyone protesting the disruptors’ conduct would be up in arms if the disruptors were pro-life advocates interrupting President Obama’s speech, or any other conservative group protesting interrupting a liberal speaker. It’s kind of the point – free speech isn’t only about those ideas you agree with — it’s especially for those ideas you disagree with you vehemently.

    So, many of us (I can’t speak for all), are not so much concerned that “the man who presses the buttons in this video game war” is getting more attention than “murdered Iraqi and Afghani citizens”, in that we’re making a value judgment one over the other. Rather, we’re concerned about “free speech” vs. “speech oppressed” — and this is one of the core issues, if not the core issue, our democracy. If the disruptors point of view — freedom of speech only matters in some cases — prevails, that will be a far greater blow than any one particular issue of policy.

    No one’s saying that the protesters couldn’t’ve voiced their dissent in a non-disruptive manner. They might’ve annoyed and angered many, but it’s within their rights. Instead, they crossed the line when they decided their speech was ‘worth more’ than someone else’s. And that’s the issue.

  7. The first letter is signed by the students of Georgetown University? I don’t remember throwing my not-inconsiderable support behind any such letter. WTF, counter-protesters?

    P.S. Does this make me a counter-counter-protester? I certainly hope so.

  8. The letter versus petition point is that one has been endorsed by a number of groups and one has not been circulated for group endorsement: i don’t want groups who endorsed one to be held accountable for something they didn’t endorse (aka the petition). Thank you for your self-important opinion though :)

  9. I’m with Sam. The very first line, “We the undergraduates” and the signature of “the students of Georgetown University” in the letter to Petraeus is completely inappropriate. Jon, if you don’t want groups to be held accountable for something they didn’t endorse, then please do not include such a blanket term in your letter. No, the undergraduates of Georgetown University did not decide to do this together.

  10. Dear Jon,
    I am an undergraduate student. I don’t endorse the letter. Why does it say I do?

  11. It says “the undergraduates of Georgetown University” because a) only Hoyas are allowed to sign it and b) the term best encapsulating all signatories is “undergraduates of Georgetown University”. It will be submitted with signatures attached, hence making it quite obvious that it was endorsed solely by the undersigned. No one owns the term “undergraduates of Georgetown University”, except undergraduates of Georgetown University, who, if they’ve signed it, will be endorsing its application on this letter. Don’t like it, don’t sign it.

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  13. Jon,

    Then the appropriate term would be “the UNDERSIGNED students of Georgetown University.” The phrase “the students of Georgetown University” means the collective student body.

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  15. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the
    book in it or something. I think that you can do
    with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog.
    A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

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