It was the dawn of November 7th. I reached for my phone. I frantically jumped out of bed, showered, and dressed. I tipped my Times Square hotel valet and sped out of Manhattan. Caleb Slater from Ithaca College left me several urgent voicemails. It was time to handle real business in Ithaca.
For weeks, Caleb and I had planned to host Freedom Week and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Now, with just two days out, the Gun Owners event was on the brink of cancellation. Protesters were mounting their threats. Club advisors were frightened. Two exec board members were threatening to resign. Campus security was considering all scenarios.
By the time I arrived at Ithaca College around noon to meet with Caleb and campus administration, it seemed everyone had made up their minds. The event would be canceled. The meeting ended in defeat.
Not so fast! With swift wit, Caleb put the decision to cancel the event to a vote. Nora Borgos and Alaina White, two brave executive board members, fearlessly voted in favor of the event. One board member voted nay. A 3-1 vote! It was decided. They would bring in Larry Pratt. They would bring on the protesters! Two club board members resigned.
Then the day of reckoning came – November 8th – the start of Freedom Week. Members of Ithaca Young Americans for Liberty and Ithaca College Republicans hand-built a mock Berlin Wall. Street artists tagged, “Commies Kill,” and “Hillary for Prison.” Socialist sympathizers also made their mark. A frosty New York dusk settled in and the mock Berlin Wall was left to fend for itself.
Then came November 9th, and the mock Berlin Wall was still standing. The anticipated Gun Owners event was here. College security was seen moving security barriers. Local Ithaca media were charging their camera batteries. Ithaca conservative and libertarian students began to assemble around the mock Berlin Wall. President Reagan’s words were said: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” With blows and fury, the wall crumbled. No wall – no fear – was going to prevent Ithaca conservative and libertarian students from their freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, Caleb and I were meeting with campus security in order to assess the entire event from entrance to exit. I made a quick call to the men of Gun Owners of America at Rochester. They agreed to provide extra security. The boys in blue, the Tompkins Sheriff Department, also agreed to provide security. We were ready. Let’s rock.
I walked into the warm venue where close to thirty silent protesters were holding the names of those loved and lost in our country’s recent massacres. The venue was packed, but their silence was moving. I found my seat saved within the crowd. Caleb introduced Larry and the show began. Larry’s words were short, so as to give proponents and opponents the chance to speak. Quick spars, a few grunts, and some gasps were heard in the crowd. A referee in a sports coat, the moderator, kept the spars clean. The event ended in civility.
On November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany fell. On November 9th, 2017, prejudices against conservative and libertarian students at Ithaca College were dismantled. One progressive student later posted on social media, “Mad respect for John and Caleb who asked questions about things they feel they don’t or can’t understand rather than shutting down other voices.” Another student said, “Caleb Slater private messaged me and was quite cordial. He deserves massive credit for opening himself up to the ideas of others.” This was a day that should be remembered – on November 9th, 2017, Ithaca College Young Americans for Liberty and Ithaca College Republicans, as well as their critics, secured honor and liberty for themselves and their peers.