Meadville Tribune

Local News

November 2, 2007

Allegheny rethinks political participation policy

11/2/07 — Less than a month before the 2004 presidential election, Vice President Dick Cheney made a campaign visit to Meadville for a communitywide rally on the Allegheny College campus. To the dismay of many observers, it was not a pretty scene.

The Oct. 13, 2004, event fueled high political unrest, and the college’s upper Highland Avenue area became a scene of hundreds of suddenly rowdy protesters. Extra police were positioned, amid fears of potential violence among the crowds, who were shouting and holding signs and banners.

The scenes outside may have been threatening to some individuals, however, across the street, comfortably inside Allegheny’s David V. Wise Fitness and Sports Center, Cheney was delivering an invitation-only, town-hall-style meeting to an audience of 600 supporters.

That was the rub. Particularly for supporters of the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential ticket, the problem was not that a high-ranking political rival was across the street; it was that they were locked out, not welcome to hear what he had to say.

Allegheny professor Daniel Shea, nationally respected scholar and founder of Allegheny’s Center for Political Participation, said that “allowing the vice president to use our facilities (for that style of event) was a mistake.” However, Shea added that closed campaigns have occurred with candidates in both Republican and Democratic parties.

And now, three years later, the private, liberal arts college of approximately 2,000 undergraduate students has established a new political participation policy. And, beyond that, the college is encouraging others to join its initiative. The effort has led to the creation of a “Soapbox Alliance,” a coalition of institutions that either have an open campaign-event policy or have pledged to work toward the goal of establishing an open-event policy by Sept. 1, 2008.

Monday at 10 a.m., an Allegheny-based news conference will push forward the alliance’s goals.

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