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Republican Presidential Candidate and Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich hosted a movie screening and forum at the Harvard Kennedy School on Friday, prompting a group of Occupy protesters to disrupt the beginning of the event with a rehearsed chant.
Shortly after Gingrich arrived, Occupy protesters began chanting, “Mic check. Mic check! We love you Newt. We love you Newt! Thank you for standing up for corporations. They have rights too.”
Gingrich started to respond to the protesters, but they interrupted him mid-sentence to continue their chant.
“Thank you for understanding that simple point. We are the 99 percent!” the group yelled.
Many audience members were frustrated by the protesters.
“Go back to your tents!” shouted an audience member, prompting laughter and applause from many spectators.
But Gingrich was unfazed by the interruption.
“I think we are 100 percent. We are all Americans,” responded Gingrich to further applause.
Institute of Politics Director C. M. “Trey” Grayson ’94 gave the introduction to Gingrich’s talk. Grayson emphasized that audience members would be able to express themselves, as long as they were respectful to the visiting speaker.
“Before I introduce the Speaker and Mrs. Gingrich, I want to lay down the ground rules for tonight’s event. Freedom of speech and civility are bedrock principles for the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum and Harvard University,” Grayson said.
Grayson also announced shortly after 5 p.m. that Gingrich had encountered heavy traffic and would be late to the forum.
The former Speaker and his wife, Callista L. Gingrich, arrived around 5:40 p.m. and began to discuss their film “A City Upon A Hill: The Spirit of American Exceptionalism” when the protesters interrupted.
Grayson explained that question and answer sessions at the Forum are always “unfettered,” leading to interesting exchanges between speakers and participants.
“The reason why this is successful is our audience respects our speaker’s right to free speech, as well as our audience’s right to listen to our speakers,” he said.
Following the initial outburst, the remainder of the event ran smoothly, with an hour-long movie screening followed by a question and answer session with Gingrich.
Audience members pressed Gingrich on his stances on the issues of illegal immigration, female inequality, the educational system, and even beer.
“I am an MPA student at the Harvard Kennedy School from [pause] Europe,” began one man, prompting laughter from the audience due to Gingrich’s negative portrayal of Europe throughout his film.
After the man clarified that he was from Bavaria, Gingrich quipped, “Do you like beer?,” referencing Bavaria, the second largest brewery in the Netherlands.
“Everybody likes beer,” the man joked.
“But they don’t like American beer that much.”
Despite the early disruptions, Grayson said the event was successful.
“I’m excited to see the crowd. We didn’t know what to expect,” Grayson said.
Grayson admitted that if he were a student, he might have skipped the lecture.
“It ended up being the Friday before Harvard-Yale weekend. If I were an undergrad, I’d be at Toad’s right now.”
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