Ashcroft gave a fairly unremarkable speech, citing new technology as both an asset and a disservice to leadership, leaving many of his controversies unspoken. He did address the Patriot Act, attempting to explain its conception in the terrifying days following September 11th. Ashcroft is not a dumb man, he spoke about the Act in this context to play on the patriotism in the audience, and he recieved his most rousing applause during this portion of the speech. Unshockingly, he didn't mention how the Patriot Act weakens civil liberties in innumerable ways. Maybe he couldn't count the ways?
During his speech, many Knox students protested, covering their hands in red paint to symbolize the blood on Ashcroft and the Bush adminstration's hands, standing with their heads covered in black bags while wearing orange shirts, obvisously in refrence to torture victims, and even laying outside the speech in a way that directly reflected how waterboarding is used.
Many of the questions posed during the Q and A portion of the evening had to do with Ashcroft's involvement with the approval and use of waterboarding. What is waterboarding? It is a torture technique used by US officals that consists of strapping the victim down, wrapping plastic over the victims' face, tiltling his or her head back to simulate a gag reflex, and pouring water into the victim's mouth and lungs. It is drowning and causes all the damage drowning does: lung damage, brain damage, and extreme psychological damage.
Ashcroft skillfully avoided directly answering questions about the legality of waterboarding, but he was obvisously uncomfortable throughout, coming close to yelling at students and making jokes. I think it was these jokes which angered me most. When confronted about his own definition of torture, Ashcroft said his list of what consitituted cruel would be different than most; he would include attending a high school dance. Hardy Har Har. I love when powerful men compare drowning suspects to high school memories. Fucking hilarious, Johnny.
So what does this have to do with feminism? Maybe nothing, espically because his extreme stance abortion was not mentioned during his speech. But, because the mainstream newsmedia has ignored US torture techniques, it is the responsibility of the alternative press, such as blogs like this, to present the information. So we are.
Kate did a pretty good job covering the speech. I did find it rather unsettling how much he focused on new technology and its relation to weaponry, especially considering this was supposed to be a speech about leadership. He also did a pretty good job hyping up the United States, discussing about its multiple superiorities, be they political or religious (yes, he did throw that in there, indirectly).
But what upset me the most was his performance during the question and answer section. I realize that he must have been aware of the rather hostile environment he had stepped into - many people in the audience were visually protesting him during his speech - but he did not do very much to change my opinion of him or his policies by outright refusing to answer several questions and skirting the rest. He also responded to some of them in ways that I found very inappropriate. He challenged the validity of questions, for example, by calling out one asker who could not cite the exact date of an interaction the Ashcroft had recently had in Washington (I think it may have been this one, but I'm not sure because Ashcroft didn't really let the person ask their question without interruption). He also managed to dodge questions by twisting the background information provided by one student so that she contradicted herself.
I admit that some of the audience members were disrespectful at times (but only a handful of times), but I believe that Ashcroft, an experienced politician, should have known better than to react equally as disrespectfully. He made himself look bad by refusing to answer questions posed by college students who only wanted their voices to be heard.
And with regard to how this is related to feminism, check out this neat little list of Ashcroft's views on abortion. He also seems very heteronormative in his views, as he completely disregarded a question about the effects of his actions on the LGBTQ community.
Also, if you want to see some pictures I took of the people who protested his speech, you can view them here.
A local paper carried this article today; I felt that it was very anti-protesters, and it did not accurately portray Ashcroft's reaction (and dismissal) of many of the questions that students asked, even the ones that were not directly accusatory. And as for the article's last line, “The difference between you (the audience) and them is they don’t want to see. There are none so blind as those who don’t want to see," (about some protesting students with blood on their hands and hoods over their heads), someone else yelled out after that, "But they can still hear!"