Tuesday, May 01, 2007

THE BYU 25: My Diary of a Grass Roots Miracle (PART ONE)

Provo, Utah. April 26th, 6:40am

I woke up in a panic. I was still in my clothes and I was on Ashley Sanders' couch. My video camera was on the coffee table three feet away. I knew we were late. I looked at my cell phone and saw the time. Crap. I jumped up and ran into the kitchen to see Ashley stumbling out of her bedroom, cell phone to her ear. "Yeah, sorry. We'll be right there." She hung up and looked at me with bleary eyes. "Let's go." I grabbed my camera and we jumped into her roommate's car.

We had a live interview with FOX 13 at 6:45am. We wouldn't make it, but the reporter said they could delay 5-10 minutes. We sped to the campus of Utah Valley State College (UVSC) seven miles away. We passed underneath an overpass where someone had hung a sign that said, "BYU LOVES DICK". I couldn't believe the day was already here.

"Please come to tonight's event. We've worked so hard for it."

FOX 13 was covering the controversy behind Vice President Dick Cheney's graduation speech that day at Brigham Young University (BYU). They were interviewing Ashley that morning because she, and 24 other BYU students, had protested Cheney's pending speech and organized an "alternative" graduation. After 3 weeks of pure logistical hell, they had secured a venue (UVSC's McKay Events Center), raised $23,000 to cover costs, and booked Ralph Nader to keynote the event.

Many in Provo scoffed at these students and said that their efforts were in poor taste and accused them of displaying behavior unbecoming of a Mormon. Yes, some folks in Happy Valley felt it necessary to call these students godless "heretics" in the hallways of "The Lord's University". Others went as far as to create a "do not hire" list, with the names of all protesting students, and sent it to businesses in the Provo area. These 25 kids had literally shed blood, poured tears, and sweated out multiple stressful nights for a cause that they believed to be both spiritual and just.

A packed house of student activists; losing sleep for a cause.

The FOX interview ended and Ashley and I both walked like zombies back to the car. We had gone to bed at around 3:00am the previous night and that usually wouldn't have been that big of a deal, except we had all been going to bed at around 3:00am and waking up at around 6:00am for days. Seconds into speeding off, Ashley was on her cell phone again with another student organizer who had woken up at this god-forsaken hour. Everything they had planned for 3 weeks had to come together today without a hitch or the results could be both embarrassing and disastrous.

Arriving back at Ashley's place, activity had already started. Cell phones were glowing and lap top computers were popped open. Eric Bybee, the other main organizer, was off getting the rental Sedan to be used to pick up Ralph Nader later in the afternoon. Eric had taken three final exams in a row the previous day. The same day, Ashley had taken her Spanish final exam over a quick lunch with her professor. They talked in Spanish about why she was protesting Dick Cheney. She got an "A".

Back at Ashley's, five of the organizing students starting bringing in bags and bags of organic foods and ingredients. They had tried to find a Middle Eastern or otherwise healthy, vegetarianesque restaurant in the Provo area that would allow them to hold a dinner for Ralph Nader at about 11:00pm that night. This was to no avail. So, they decided to do it themselves. Locally bought carrots, squash and melons were set out on tiny counter spaces. Pots and pans were strewn throughout as they began to clean and cut the vegetables. At least two separate recipe books were open as they frantically did their best. At one point, while mixing two ingredients, a boiling pot overflowed and immersed a thumb of one of the girls. She didn't flinch and, with determination, kept cooking.

They did everything, down to cutting veggies and looking up recipes.

In the other room, a group of students had arrived and were glued to computer screens, sending out last minute emails. One cell-phoned student talked logistics about that night's musical performances. Did we have all the microphones needed? Stage left or stage right? How are we going to transport a grand piano? Another student was answering questions about security. Do we have security guards for tonight? How many? The local police will be there? What happens if someone gets violent?

This hurricane of fast-paced madness continued until 11:00am when the local protests started breaking out. "I'm going to the BYU Republicans' Pro Cheney Rally," one student said as she hung up her phone, "I'm sure it's going to be quite amazing". Smiling, she left. Another small group left to go to the "quiet and polite" protest held by the BYU Democrats. Some of their friends were there and maybe they'd get on the news since that's where most of the news cameras were going to be. My documentary crew, in fact, had cameras at both events.

My camera, however, stayed at Ashley's house. Eric arrived, in the big Sedan rental, and he was wearing a big smile. Rushing into the house, Eric exclaimed, "I haven't even written my speech for tonight!" Ashley, sitting bare foot on her bed, looked up from her laptop, "Neither have I! I'm trying, but I just can't!" For the next two hours, they sat in a messy room furiously typing thoughts and organizing who would say what, all the while taking phone calls from dozens and dozens of people trying to make things happen. Ashley, while on the phone with her mom for four minutes, discovered that she had nine new messages.

The tension mounts... "I just don't know what to write."

"There was more press than Republicans at their rally", one student humorously exclaimed as they arrived back to home base. "They had planted over 200 American flags into the ground and one woman came up to me and said, 'Isn't the sight of an American flag just so beautiful'? So I said, "Yep. But I think it peaks at about 200 flags."

On the other side of town, about 150 BYU Democrats showed their dissent. They had assigned themselves rules to have no Anti-Cheney signs, no Anti-Bush signs, and no "offensive" or "controversial" signs. Instead, they opted for signs that said "Peace", "Make Soup, Not War", and "Stop Pornography". And there was no shouting or chanting allowed either. They had the right to remain silent. And, for the most part, they did. The press folk were beside themselves because BYU students were actually protesting. Politely, yes, but still protesting.

A quiet and peaceful protest by BYU Democrats.

"Holy crap, we have to go!", Eric said as he noticed it was already 2:15pm. "We have to pick up Ralph Nader at 3:40pm".

No where near being done with their speeches, they rushed outside to the dark blue Sedan. As they left, an aroma of spices and herbs erupted out the front door. The student dinner party was still hard at work.

I jumped into the back seat with my camera, having never turned it off. Eric took the helm and sped off towards the freeway to begin a 45 minute drive to the airport.

Ashley looked at the clock and said, "Cheney's plane landed 20 minutes ago. We're going to pass his motorcade entourage on the way up to pick up Nader."

"Oh, man", Eric laughed, "This is going to be perfect."

TO BE CONTINUED...

8 comments:

The Misanthropic Mormon said...

Dogs and cats.

Anonymous said...

yawn.

Steven said...

"Yawn" because you realized that these kids accomplished more in 3 weeks than you'll accomplish in your entire boring life?

Anonymous said...

don't get so defensive, stevie. that'll stunt your growth. the story of what the byu students did is cool. your account of it...yawn.

Cat Woman said...

IT's so cute how jealous people are of you Steve. Love it.

If this "anonymous" person thinks you're so boring, why keep commenting?

HA!

Steven said...

No. You got it wrong.

Being an "anonymous" coward will stunt your growth, not success and achievement.

Stenar said...

Your account was very fascinating. I can't wait for the third installment.

la o said...

Ah, to be young and self-centered. When you're 40 or 50, you'll realize the reality that pride only soothes the ego for a limited amount of time. Unless you can keep up the contention and ride the wave of your POV for years to come, the (dare I say it) shame of what your protesting actually achieved will creep in. It'll stick in your corners and crack and creases in your mind...for a long time. Activists don't have lives of light.
Good luck, young one.