Meggie Brooks Chapter 24 (Excerpt)

. . .
Mid-semester a Minuteman member came on campus to address the students on the issue of illegal immigration. Mr. Blythe did not come at the request of the university—heaven forbid that Princeton should ever give its imprimatur to a conservative speaker. Although just one week previous a representative from Fidel Castro’s government had spoken on socialized medicine at the university’s behest, it would be beyond the pale to expect the school to offer a speaking engagement to someone of a conservative viewpoint. No, his invitation came through a campus group, Students for Law and Order.
The Minutemen are a group of volunteers who are building fences between the nation’s border states and Mexico in order to curb illegal immigration. They do it to protect the nation from the steady infusion of drugs into the country and also to protect their own property. Several border towns in Texas are so overrun by gangs from Mexico that the citizens do not dare to go outside at night. In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just across the border from Laredo, Texas, two gangs compete to see how many girls they can rape, and there are two trees in this particular town hung with the panties of the victims. The drug gangs and war lords rule these Mexican border towns. Some women have been kidnapped from Laredo and taken into Nuevo Laredo and sold to the war lords. That is how severe the situation is, and that is why Students for Law and Order invited Mr. Blythe of the Minutemen to speak on campus. About three hundred people attended the meeting. David and I were two of them.
It was apparent from the outset that Mr. Blythe would not be permitted to speak. An opposition force had attended with the express purpose of heckling and drowning him out. They raised their placards accusing him of racism and screeched and yelled and shouted obscenities every time he attempted to speak. He tried to wait them out. He lifted his hand and motioned for silence. But it was simply pandemonium whenever he opened his mouth. He could say nothing. I was horrified.
The week before, the university had made it clear that any heckling of Mr. Gomez from Cuba would not be tolerated. Security guards had kept a stern watch on the crowd, and while I was sure that a lot of people there were utterly disgusted by the outright lies being spread regarding the fabulous health system in Cuba, they maintained a polite silence. I’d overheard a student in front of me asking the girl next to her why, if Cuba’s medicine was so great, her mother, who had escaped from Cuba many years ago, sent Tylenol to her parents, but she made the statement in an undertone and in no way attempted to disrupt the assembly. This was a different story. The security guards did not even stir or in any way attempt to quell the turmoil. They appeared indifferent to the mayhem around them. One actually stood filing his nails, in total defiance of Mr. Blythe and those of us who wanted to hear him. And then, as Mr. Blythe attempted to speak one last time, students rushed the stage. They leapt up and thrust the podium back with such a violence that he would have been crushed by it had he not leapt out of the way in time. He walked off, without benefit of police escort or protection from the security guards, while the students who had accomplished this feat danced and cheered in victory.
The noise inside the hall was deafening. David, his hand protectively under my elbow, propelled me through the crowd toward an exit as quickly as he could, but we were not to escape without insult and injury. As students cheered and yelled their triumph, our haste to leave and lack of enthusiasm elicited their fury. Somebody threw a tomato at David. It hit him in the face. Hands grabbed at me as a tomato smashed into my chest, and I was thrust against David with a force that nearly knocked us both over. He held me firmly, and I clung to him fearfully. We were not the only ones receiving this treatment. Many students that night were pelted with tomatoes and handled with violence. Only after the tomato throwing grew out of control did the security guards move to break up the protesters. But they refused to use force on the perpetrators. Rather, they turned their attention to roughly hauling those of us in trouble out through the doors, acting as though we had caused the violence.
Out in the cool night air David and I stopped to gain our bearings and catch our breath. We looked at each other, stupefied by what we had just witnessed.
“Wow,” he said, “that was incredible. Are you all right?”
I nodded.
“You look a mess,” he said numbly.
“So do you.”
A guard bellowed for us to move on and return to our dorms, and so we moved quickly away.
“I’d heard about the campus riots of the 1960s, of course,” David said, wiping tomato out of his hair and off his chin, “but this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed an actual protest. I guess, when it’s all said and done, it’s kind of exciting.”
I stopped, looking at him in amazement. “I don’t think it’s at all exciting. It was horrible, and it was so antithetical to what an academic institution is supposed to foster—respect for diverse opinions and open debate. That man wasn’t allowed to even talk. There couldn’t even be any debate.”
“I know, I know. I’m not defending their behavior. I just think it’s kind of exciting in a historical kind of way to have actually witnessed something like this. And you have to admit, the protesters really believe in their cause.”
“Their cause! Their cause! Is this the way that people should defend a cause? By shouting others down? By preventing others from offering their own opinions or arguing their case? By adopting terrorist methods? Is that what you call defending a cause?”
“Meggie, Meggie,” he soothed me, “I’m not on their side. Please believe me. I just see their point of view, and I have a grudging respect for people who are willing to put everything on the line to make a point.”
“Oh, David,” I said sadly, “how can you ever respect such behavior? Terrorists all over the world put everything on the line all the time to make their points, but such behavior is not to be respected. It is reprehensible. It leads to anarchy. It denies others their constitutional and God-given rights just so they can make their points. Such people don’t realize that they are destroying the very fabric of this society when they act this way—they are destroying the society that gives them their free speech rights along with everyone else. If they win, we all lose. Don’t you see that, David?”
“And yet, it also seems to me that nothing great is ever accomplished without such methods.”
“Oh, you mean ‘great’ as in the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, Tiananmen Square, the great Death Marches of history—those kinds of ‘great’?”
“Or the American Revolution.”
“That was the only one that was carried off without people losing their heads, so to speak. That one was rooted in the Enlightenment and in Christian thought. People were not murdered by the thousands by thugs who simply wanted power, which is what all these kinds of protests eventually come to, it seems to me.”
He reached out and wrapped both arms around my shoulders.
“Don’t get overly excited, my dear, darling little activist. Of course I see that, and I agree with the fundamentals of what you are saying. Of course I do.”
He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped my face, which had some smatterings of tomato on it. Then he leaned in and kissed me lightly on the cheek, surprising me with his gentleness.
“You are such an enigma sometimes, David,” I murmured softly.
“Ah, but you’re very clear to read at all times,” he answered, a strange smile on his face.
We stood and looked at each other a few moments, growing calmer and enjoying the comfort of each other’s presence. Finally he stroked my cheek.
“You’d better get back to your room; you’re starting to shiver.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and turned to walk back to my dorm. “Yes, it is getting cold out here. Even in my jacket I’m starting to feel the cold.”
“Besides,” there was a devilish lilt in his voice and I was sure there would be a glint in his eyes if I could but see them, “you’re not much to look at with tomato all over your hair and chest.”
“Oh! You scalawag!” I cried, turning toward him again to pummel him. He caught my hands in his before I could reach my mark.
“Scalawag!” He roared with laughter. “You quaint little thing. You sound just like Scarlett O’Hara! Go on now, before you catch your death of cold, as they say in all the books. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I ran to my room, wondering how a man could be so infuriating and so wonderful all at the same time.