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At teach-in, activists talk next steps for opposing Bannon at U of C

About 75 people attended a teach-in Friday evening featuring activists who oppose Steve Bannon's upcoming event at the University of Chicago. | Pete Grieve for the Sun-Times

Campus and community activists held a teach-in Friday evening to organize against an upcoming event at the University of Chicago with former White House advisor and Breitbart editor Steve Bannon.

Philosophy professor Anton Ford said it’s an embarrassment to the University of Chicago that a professor at the business school, Luigi Zingales, has extended an invitation to Bannon.

“Luigi Zingales is creating a media spectacle at the center of which is him,” he said to an audience of about 75 people at the First Unitarian Church in Hyde Park. “It’s a discredit to a university to treat somebody as having something to teach us just because they have ascended to power. . . . A lot of us are wondering, what is the academic value of this?”

Zingales’s research interests include the rise of populism, and he has said that’s a reason he’s interested in hearing from Bannon. But Ford said if there is some academic reason for a professor to talk to Bannon, it could be done in private, as opposed to inviting him to speak publicly and giving a platform to racism.

“When people are coming out from all across the city, from the neighborhood, to protest this saying, ‘We don’t want this person here. Don’t bring this person here’ – even if there is some academic merit to talking with him, make a podcast, invite him to Italy. Don’t bring him here. Have an email exchange, or talk to him in private.”

From left to right: Jireh L. Drake, Edward Ward, Samantha Eyler-Driscoll, Anton Ford, Cosette Hampton and Arianna Gass | Pete Grieve for the Sun-Times

Samantha Eyler-Driscoll, who worked for a blog directed by Zingales and said she had to resign from its editorial board to speak out, said she couldn’t continue to be part of that platform after the professor invited Bannon.

“I’m running this publication that he has basically hijacked to promote his beliefs about the necessity of debating with Nazism,” she said. “I didn’t want to be the figurehead of this platform.”

Zingales could not be reached for comment Friday night, but he has defended his invitation by saying it would be productive to hear what Bannon has to say.

Two organizers from DePaul who protested an event with conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, Jireh L. Drake and Edward Ward, were featured on Friday’s panel and shared what they learned from that experience.

Drake grew tired of hearing the white students who invited Yiannopolous use words from the U.S. Constitution like “free speech” to defend the invitation, which forced activists to respond within a white discourse.

“We, black and brown students, had to fight back using the same rhetoric, and I’m like: Why am I using this rhetoric from the Constitution that never included me anyways?”

The date of the event has not been announced, though U of C officials have confirmed it will be in the form of a debate. Organizers plan to hold two more teach-ins in the meantime, and they said a protest Downtown will be announced soon.