Seniors to protest Blair’s address

On the eve of Class Day, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is hard at work finishing his speech — just as some Yale seniors are rallying their peers to protest it.

On Monday, Blair will watch his eldest son, Euan Blair GRD ’08, receive a master’s degree in international relations from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. But before he can shift into the role of prideful parent, he has work to do — namely, to finish his Class Day address, a task he was completing Saturday, according to a spokesman, Matthew Doyle.

As former Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares for his speech at Sunday's Class Day, a group of Yale seniors is readying for a silent protest of the address.
As former Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares for his speech at Sunday's Class Day, a group of Yale seniors is readying for a silent protest of the address.

Blair, who left office last June, arrived in New Haven on Friday and is staying at the ceremonial residence of University President Richard Levin at 43 Hillhouse Ave., Doyle said.

Meanwhile, an ad hoc group of seniors is finalizing the details of a protest planned during Blair’s speech at Class Day, scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday on the Old Campus. It would hardly be a first for the former prime minister; Blair, a close ally of President George W. Bush ’68, has often taken heat for support of the war in Iraq.

The group, calling itself Yale Seniors Against the War, said it hopes to demonstrate its resistance “to Yale’s obfuscation of Blair’s role in creating the worst foreign policy disaster in American history,” as it put it in a news release. During Blair’s speech, students plan to hold up signs — some emblazoned with the message “No War,” others that read “Peace Now” — while Blair speaks.

Some of the students will stand up in protest while he speaks, said Frances Kelley ’08, a spokeswoman for the group, which she said is being led by about 15 seniors. But those who protest will remain silent, Kelley said.

“We’re not doing anything that would make noise or disrupt the speech in any way,” she said, “because we feel that this is a really important weekend for so many families and we want to honor that.”

Told of the planned protest, Doyle emphasized that Blair supports the right to free speech. But he added that the students and families in attendance also have a right to hear the former prime minister’s address without disruption.

The ceremony itself, meanwhile, will be accompanied by stepped-up security.

Special arrangements this year include closing Old Campus housing to visiting families and relocating them to the residential colleges, according to Yale officials. Meanwhile, visitors to Old Campus will also have to pass through “airport-type screening,” as the Senior Class Council put it an its e-mail message to seniors.

The SCC announced on May 14 that Blair would be the Class Day speaker, confirming months of rumors that the former prime minister would be tapped for the speech. While Blair long ago agreed to speak at Class Day, the announcement of his speech was delayed for months for what University officials described as concerns about security.

Blair, 55, served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 until last June. Following his departure from 10 Downing St., Blair has taken up work as an envoy in the Middle East, as a consultant to several financial companies and, in his newest role, as Yale’s 2008 Howland

Distinguished Fellow. In that role, Blair will lead a course on faith and globalization at the Divinity School and School of Management and will also participate in several public events around campus next year.

Blair has been in the news this week for more than just his planned speech. On Wednesday, while flying to an investment conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the plane carrying Blair drifted into Israeli airspace and did not respond to repeated radio calls from air traffic controllers demanding that it identify itself, The Associated Press reported.

Two Israeli fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the plane — only to then learn of its famous passenger, according to the A.P.

Doyle, sitting Saturday in the Woodbridge Hall office of University Secretary Linda Lorimer as he fielded calls from British newspapers readying their Sunday editions, chuckled when asked about the incident and said it had been overblown in the press. There was no such drama with Blair’s flight to the U.S., he added.

But in an unexpected turn of events, Blair’s speech on Sunday has in some ways been relegated to the back burner as another political icon comes to Connecticut for graduation festivities. Sen. Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate for president, will stand in for a recovering Sen. Ted Kennedy as the keynote speaker at Wesleyan University’s commencement on Sunday in Middletown, Conn.

Obama’s planned appearance generated so much buzz since it was announced Thursday that the university had to close its commencement to the public.

Comments

  • protester

    so the seniors are going to protest by keeping their mouths shut? perfect. I wish other self-appointed activists would follow their lead as well.

  • Daniel

    Tony Blair is one of the instigators of the Iraq War. Despite the fact that few people here have a direct connection to the war, this war has a huge impact on many people's lives and has brought chaos to a country. We cannot condone Blair's participation to our graduation. This isn't just a misguided action, it is one that has ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

    Also, to #1, I'm not sure what a "self-appointed activist" means. Activism means a bottom-up grassroots action… What would you want, that activists be appointed by other people?

  • Mary Ph.D. '08

    Go seniors, I'll paint my sign tonight!

  • Anonymous

    This is just another example of how left-wing fanatics at Yale have sacrificed all the things that once made this University great, especially a high-level of gentlemanly culture. The latter would have prevented Yalies from ever ruining graduation with stupid protests or attacking an invited guest at our school.

  • Yale '10

    #4: The protesters, if you bothered to read their op-ed here on the YDN online, are going out of their way to not interrupt the speech, by remaining respectfully silent, while still not compromising their integrity by making it seem that Blair, and his doomed foreign policies (which sadly overshadow his decent domestic Labor policies), speak for graduates. Even more than Blair himself, his presence allows us all to remember the immense cost of this misguided and deadly war, even as it is swept under the rug.

    We all know when this change took place, too, a point on which I assume #4 will agree: 1969. Clearly, with the admission of outspoken women, this "high-level of gentlemanly culture" took a nose-dive. Thank G-d. Actually, as a male, I won't let them take all the credit. Give some to the Black Panthers, some to Yale students who supported them, to those that helped shut the campus down that year, as they rallied against another illegal and devastating foreign war. To Coffin, who consoled and counseled scared and angry students. And to Brewster, whose quiet heroism ultimately saved Yale, and set it on a new path to greatness.

    I tremble to think of the "greatness" that once walked these hallowed, New Haven grounds. May we never see it again.

    Good luck to Yale Seniors Against the War, and their supporters; as we stay at college these next few, bright years, we'll feel better knowing that you are already working for change in the world at large.

    And happy graduation to everyone — even those who disagree.

  • y08

    Just because they have a right to protest doesn't mean that they should.

  • Ron

    To #4,

    Let's talk about the level of gentlemanness Blair exhibited when instigating a war and leading to thousands of deaths.

  • Yale '10

    Just because they have the power to invade Iraq doesn't mean that they should.

  • Marissa 07

    Good job seniors! Tony Blair doesn't represent the Yale I graduated from any more than a high level of gentlemanly culture does.

  • Anon

    @ #5:

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    #4, learn something about 'old yale' before you wax so nostalgic about its gentlemanliness. 'Old Yale' assaulted policeman with considerable regularity, published truly nasty screeds in the pages of this very paper about Jews and other less-than-WASPy sorts, and committed all sorts of unpleasantnesses. If you actually take the time to investigate, you'll notice that undergraduates of the past were really in no substantial way better-behaved than those of today, in regards to disorderly behavior, destruction of property or any other sort of illegal activity. What happened in 1969 is that Yale realized that the outside world existed, and, thanks to Coffin, Brewster and a host of others, saved itself from total irrelevance. The outward-directedness of Yale that exists today we can chalk up to those reformers and their early-sixties counterparts. The 'Old Yale' you refer to is a myth believed mainly by campus conservatives; I think it makes them feel like the defenders of something. Too bad it's not what they think.

  • yale 08

    sign in my face.

    sign destroyed.

    idiots prevented from ruining class day.

  • FCCH

    The email going around about the Iraq War mentions that you are all standing up for what "Yale taught you". Really? What about the importance of allies? The value of unconditional support? Didn't you make friends in college who you would defend, not matter what?
    That is what Blair is to the US. Right or wrong, the truth is that the US invaded Iraq, and Blair stood firm behind its ally to topple Hussein. If it wasn't for them , the war effort would have been far more costly and deadly to all parties. If you can't value that type of unity, then I don't know what the hell Yale taught you.
    Go ahead…protest. Then go eat with your families at Union League Cafe, hop on your BMW and drive to your appartment on the upper east side. Don't go telling me that I have nothing in common with the Iraqi people. If you knew what Saddam put them through, I don't think you'd be holding your signs.

  • Recent Alum

    This tendency by extreme Leftists to protest every single person who doesn't agree with the Left's agenda on every single issue now has reached a whole new level of absurdity.

    Blair is a LIBERAL. He is a former leader of the Labour Party with a liberal position on most issues of domestic policies. If anyone should protest him for disagreeing with their views, it should be conservative Republicans, who would find that Blair's support for big government and welfare-like policies is profoundly misguided. Of course, conservative Republicans understand that decent people can sometimes disagree with them and do not feel the need to protest everyone who doesn't agree with them on everything.

    If the speaker was someone who was very much against the war but also very socially conservative on abortion and homosexuality (think Pat Buchanan), Leftists would have used this as an excuse to protest as well. They demand and expect the speaker to completely capitulate to their agenda on everything. Meanwhile, I don't recall any protests by conservatives when Hillary Clinton(!!!) was the speaker.

    What the "Students Against the War" are doing here is simply appalling and they deserve to be mocked by all of us with a minimum of common sense and decency.

  • yale 08

    Predictably, the signs were in fact disruptive, needlessly distracting many students and parents from a very good, funny speech by Blair. Amusingly, Blair is no longer in the position to make decisions on war and peace, but nonetheless encouraged us to pursue causes in public service and feel mercy towards the weak and downtrodden around the world. But just like the religious fanatics to whom the left would abandon Iraq, these protesters have no tolerance for dissent, as #13 correctly pointed out.

  • yale 08

    #14,

    If you can't concentrate on a speech when 60 students are holding up small-sized signs, I am sorry for you.

    Blair wants to be president of the EU now. He is very much in a position to still make major political decisions, so your point is unfortunately not correct.

    As to #13, interesting comparison to Pat Buchanan, but fortunately for him Buchanan isn't responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

  • yale 08

    Sitting almost in the very middle of the student section, I clearly saw several protesters obnoxiously standing or holding signs right in front of others' faces during Blair's whole speech, blocking the view and deeply annoying at least a few dozen people behind them who just wanted to enjoy the speech. However, some here are so egocentric that their opinions must always trump courtesy towards others.

  • alum '81

    Dear protestors:
    Your summer homework is to contact a member of our military and thank them for defending your right to protest.The men and women of our Armed Forces are the ones truly protecting our life and liberty. And they are working hard to free Iraq and Afghanistan from tyranny. From the cozy and safe bosom of Yale you could at least send a letter of support and thanks to a soldier putting his or her life on the line. A good way to make contact is through Soldiers' Angels at http://www.soldiersangels.org. Or send a donation to one of the many charities supporting wounded soldiers and their families.

  • anon

    #15, of course the signs were distracting, if a group of 60 protestors didn't draw attention away from the speech and towards themselves, than they wouldn't be very good protestors, would they?

  • re #17

    And people accuse liberals of being self-righteous … wow.

  • 07 grad

    Although the protesters did not disturb the speech in any raucous manner, I denounce them for politicizing an event which should have been anything but political, a time for the graduates and their families and friends to come together, celebrate his/her achievements, and say thank you to everyone who made the occasion possible. Mr. Blair realized the nature of the occasion and gave a speech that, at least in my opinion, was very appropriate. Unfortunately, about a hundered of those in the audience did not understand that the right of free speech also comes with an asterisk - a responsibility to exercise their right in the right circumstances. It seemed as though they failed to learn one very important thing at Yale - to put themselves in the shoes of others, because every action always comes with some kind of reaction.

  • Recent Alum

    Thank you, #17. The protests were particularly ironic (and in poor taste) given that this was on Memorial Day week-end (though I doubt any of the protesters knew what Memorial Day is supposed to be about).

  • NellieO

    Congratulations Dr. James Paul McCartney.

  • Yalie

    #19, I love how you assume that #17 is not himself a liberal. I guess you inadvertently admitted that the fact that #17 supports the troops is enough to show that he couldn't possibly be a liberal. Now can we say liberals are unpatriotic or is that still un-PC?

  • @#21,22

    But #22, notice how #21 assumes that anyone who doesn't support an illegal war that is pointlessly killing soldiers and civilians alike must therefore be unaware of Memorial Day, or dismissive of it and the soldiers to whom the day is dedicated.

    Or perhaps we just care enough not to sit idly by while a president, with a messianic complex and no problem with disregarding the Constitution, sends more soldiers off — but at least he gives up golf (kind of).

    Maybe leftists wouldn't be so disgusted by our wars if we followed them up with as much effort on the peace side — if we actually fought for humanitarian goals and not crass self-interest.

    Remember the war in Afghanistan?

    No, not the one in 2001; the one in 1987-88, when we funded the mujahideen in order to drive out the Soviets. A billion for anti-aircraft guns, but we couldn't be bothered to help rebuild the country afterward — so they turned to the Taliban.

    We can only hope that the next president has the guts to stay in Afghanistan and Iraq, but with schools and hospitals instead of guns.

    Maybe then the sacrifices of soldiers, American and foreign, will ultimately achieve something sustainable, and we can exit this endless cycle of fighting our former "friends."

    So I don't, and won't ever, cede patriotism to conservatives. Argue on the merits, there can be room for substantive debate, but how dare you question our loyalty.

  • #19

    @#22
    It's actually the utter disdain for protest that comes through so clearly in post #17 that makes me know the person is a conservative. The implication in that post that protesting demonstrates deficient patriotism which needs to be made up for in other ways is emblematic of a conservative. Liberals recognize that criticizing bad behavior by a government makes you a better citizen, not a worse one.

    Of course, if your definition of patriotism is "anything my country does is right" then I'm happy to be called unpatriotic. But I rather think that real patriotism involves trying to fix your country's problems and make up for its mistakes, not mere formulaic expressions of loyalty.

  • alum '81

    Hi, #24

    Dissent only seems to be the highest form of patriotism for some students when it involves dissenting with George W. Bush.

    I voted for Gore and Kerry, by the way. But mindless criticism of conservatives and the military just makes the left wing look bad.

  • Anonymous

    (Comments numbered by paragraph)

    #23:

    1. "Illegal?" How cute. "Do not speak to me of rules! This is war! This is not a game of cricket!"

    2. Last I looked, Blair was giving the speech, not Bush.

    3. So you'd be OK with the Iraq war if we were fighting to liberate a people horribly oppressed by a ruthless, cruel dictator and to try to give to them the truth that we constantly proclaim to be self-evident - the idea that all men (and women) are created equal? That does seem to be the GOP's position on Iraq for the last few years. I'm not saying I buy it, but be careful what you wish for.

    6. You should read the news more often; they're building schools and hospitals in Afghanistan; Iraq already has schools and hospitals, they just keep getting bombed…and we keep working to rebuild them.

    #24:

    Blair is no longer the elected representative of the UK, so protesting his visit seems somewhat pointless; it's not as if he can go back to 10 Downing and start changing his Iraq policy.

  • #24

    @#26
    Your point to me is entirely fair, but it isn't the point people have been making. It's likely that this wasn't the time to protest, but that isn't because graduations should remain non-political, because protests are distracting, or because protesting is unpatriotic (the main arguments that people have been making). If you want to argue about whether it's worthwhile to protest Blair, then go for it., but arguments like those in #4 and #21 lack any merit.

    @#25 Dissent is normally directed against those in power. If and when these students blindly follow the policies of a President Obama (or whoever the next Democrat elected is) - then we can talk. And I wouldn't call most of the criticism of Bush that occurs at a place like Yale "mindless" - that really sells the students at your alma mater short.

  • #23

    @#26,

    1. "Illegal." Yes, actually. As in Geneva Conventions, and international rules of war, which we expect others to follow, but never ourselves. It is, not surprisingly, where the term "war crimes" comes from. If you wish to see that designation banished, we might have to retroactively pardon a few hanged Germans. Be careful what you wish for.

    2. Blair, who supported the same war as Bush. But point conceded — the protest over Bush speaking would have made this look quaint, I'm sure we can agree.

    3. Other leftists might say "all war is a crime." I, though, am not a pacifist, so am quite willing to wish the fights we pick might be better chosen. As you said, you don't really by the GOP's argument in Iraq. Moreover, despite Saddam Hussein being an unconscionable despot, the U.S. complete lack of understanding of the nuances — the religious discord, the ethnic and tribal divisions — made the war unwise, even in addition to its illegality (which stems both from its unilateral and indefensible "strike first" position, and also from the way in which prisoners of war have been treated — is this a war or not? Do we really want other countries using dogs on our soldiers? I hope not.)

    How do we pick, then, which despots to overthrow — not all of them surely. Otherwise, we'd be in Saudi Arabia and Myanmar, and Mugabe would already be gone, and we would have hanged Qadafi rather than spoken with him. No, I think even know the wars real architects argue that Iraq was a "threat." (So much so, in fact, that we have spent billions there, creating a chaotic breeding ground for terrorism, for rather than trying to prevent terrorism elsewhere.) Maybe I'd have though Saddam was the world's biggest threat if he wasn't once our friend. That makes it seem a little more like opportunism.

    6. Sorry if I wasn't clear. Yes, we've built some infrastructure, but nothing relative to what we spend on military equipment. And it has less to do with what we do while we are "there," and more to do with how fast we leave once we get bored (hence the 87-88 reference), leaving vacuums for non-state actors. Another example of giving weapons and not peacetime needs: Hizbollah has support in Lebanon, not because everyone there is a crazy radical, but because they provide services the state does not and cannot. Maybe an effective strategy to reduce Hizbollah's power would be to support the government in providing its citizens with basic services — not easy though, after the support Hizbollah's gains, much of them due to warmongering of the U.S.

    Sad, we had a chance. Maybe we will again.

    To your comment to #24 … as many above have pointed out, Blair seems to be aiming for an EU position, in which he could feasibly affect war or post-war policy in Iraq.

  • aka #26

    #28 (or should I call you #23?)

    1. Violations of the Geneva Conventions, and other attempts to limit the scope of warfare, have been and continue to be prosecuted in US military courts. Furthermore, violations of such law during the course of the war do not make the war itself illegal, just as speeding does not make the original decision to drive retroactively illegal. Finally, "war crimes" traditionally cover a jurisdiction far beyond anything US troops have committed in Iraq or Afghanistan, since as far as I am aware there have been no extermination campaigns, etc.

    3. States which are friends are friends of convenience. Ally would be a better term, and alliances can shift quickly depending on the situation at the time, and largely do not impact future decisions between those two actors.

    Regarding the 'first-strike' policy…I don't think it's the greatest idea, but I can also see where it would be very useful. One could make the argument that invading Sudan would be 'illegal', yet could also be justified on humanitarian grounds.

    As for POW treatment, the legal status of non-uniformed combatants is somewhat murky (as they do not fit the requirements of article 4) though I agree that they should be treated (aside from legal treatment) in accord with article 4 protections. Legally, however, I believe they can and should be prosecuted as saboteurs, which I think means they can be tried and possibly executed…I'd look it up, but it's 4am.

    6. Military equipment is also extraordinarily expensive, though I take your point about the pace of reconstruction…something that is, of course, greatly hampered by local violence and efforts to sabotage that reconstruction. In terms of Lebanon…well, Lebanon is complicated, but 'supporting the government' is not as easy as it sounds, in part because 'American support' is easily translated on the street to 'American Puppet Regime'. A stronger state apparatus could help the Lebanese government extend its ability to help provide those services…or merely extend its ability to repress. Democracy in this case is unlikely to give us the results we'd really like to live with.

    And I'm not sure we'll have a whole lot of a chance as long as we're the primary backer of Israel, something that I don't see changing in a long time (nor, in my opinion, should).

    Regarding Blair's future and its relevance to protest, Senator Clinton visited Yale briefly some months ago. She was (and is) aiming to become the next President of the US, in which she could definitely affect war or post-war policy in Iraq, and she, like Blair, helped approve the war in the first place. Yet there were no protests. While I understand that there is a difference between a Class Day address and a mere visit to a small part of Yale, the principle seems fairly similar. Furthermore, do you think there would have been such protests had *she* been the speaker instead?

  • another alum

    It would be hard to say the war is illegal when the use of force was authorized by Congress (House: 296 to 133,and Senate: 77 to 23). It is not a unilateral action either. There are more countries allied with the US in this effort than in the Gulf War of 1991. One can debate the Strategic decision to remove Sadaam Hussein by force, but we are clearly making progress since the recent surge in troops. Protesting against Tony Blair does not seem very helpful.I wonder how many of them stood up and protested against Sadaam Hussein , who committed genocide against the Kurds and used rape and torture to control the Iraqi people? I agree with those who expressed support for the troops. I particularly like the Wounded Warrior Project, but there are many others as well.

  • #23/28

    @#26/29,

    I don't think we'll get anywhere much anonymously on a YDN post, but thanks for actually engaging the argument in a nuanced fashion. Many of the other posts are simply dismissive. Maybe you think protests are not nuanced, either, but they have and will continue to be an effective means to draw attention to a cause. Like it or not, they helped bring attention, and an end to, the Vietnam War.

    Call it an aesthetic difference. But conservatives (though perhaps not Yale conservatives?) are also to be found protesting, and not always politely, whether it be at class days at schools that have invited left-wingers, or outside abortion clinics.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that protests draw a lot of attention. In fact, I can only hope that liberals will continue to protest as obnoxiously, un-patriotically, and loudly as possible. As long as they do, I look forward to many wonderful years of Republican government.

  • liberas/conservative

    #32 and many other self-labeled "republicans" or "conservatives": last time i checked, you could still be republican/conservative and still be against the war; on the same token, a liberal/democrat could also support the war.

    the discussion here shouldn't be about partisan and political labels. rather, it should be about the essential First Amendment right of individuals to voice their opinions -- without breaking the law -- and make it known to involved parties how they feel. And this is exactly what the protesting seniors did (and no, we don't know if they are republican/democrat/indepenent, but we know they were against the war and wanted their voice heard.)

    How sad would it be if one of the national leaders who orchestrated the disastrous war arrived at Yale and all he got was warm welcoming and smiles?

    So to these protesting seniors, I applaud your actions and please, do keep it up -- making me feel proud of Yale after all these years.

  • PP, Pierson 90

    26/29: "Like it or not, they helped bring attention, and an end to, the Vietnam War."

    And, they enabled the enemies of freedom to gain a victory that they otherwise might not have won, and caused the deaths of tens of thousands who were unable to escape the aftermath.

  • formerstudent

    As a former student of one of his seminars, I can say that we have lost one of the most amazing and intelligent individuals I have ever met. His sense of humor, sharp insights, and passion for teaching will be missed by all.

  • M.Div.'80

    Reticence about the ethicality of abortion is not exclusively the province of the religious right. I am a liberal but I have maintained for 32 years a position I first articulated in a paper for a Religious Ethics and Modern Social Issues course at Yale in 1976: Our society cannot permanently endure the subliminal guilt of over a million acts a year which we do not know are NOT murder for want of a socially agreed upon definition of WHEN human life BEGINS (conception? viability? birth?).Even though more than 32 million such acts have occurred since Roe v. Wade was passed in 1975, I believe we will some day reach the tipping point of unaccepteable millions unless society, the courts and religious institutions arrive at a consensus on an accepted defintion of the beginning of human life. Our present amnesia on the subject of 33 million potential victims is a bit like Aminebinejad's attitude toward the six million reputed victims of the Holocaust: Never happened.

    Paul D. Keane, 80MDIV

  • Anonymous

    not sure why YDN -- from headline on -- is so quick to jump to Levin's defense on this one. maybe wait for a response from the columnist before jumping on the Levin bandwagon yet again?