Dear Friends of Cuba and Supporters of the Cuban Five
Sisters and Brothers,
The July 26 coalition want to apologize to all that were not let into the Cuban Five event on Friday March 29th. We don’t blame each and everyone one of you for being disappointed and it is impossible that anyone would be more disappointed than the entire July 26 coalition group. We were originally informed that, based on Columbia’s very restrictive and rigid bureaucratic rules and procedures, which are especially enforced for “controversial” “political” (read left-wing) events organized by student groups like the one’s that initiated this event, that we would be allowed 200-250 non-Columbia-Barnard students to attend and that a formal list of attendees would have to be provided 72 hours before the event. This was after the original flyer and card had been printed without indicating that a formal RSVP was required. We immediately sent out to all the groups and individuals and listserves of friends and supporters of the Cuban Five invitations formally asking for an RSVP, because this was required by University rules. RSVPs started coming in and were confirmed and put on a master list. Three days before the event the Columbia cops, called “Public Safety,” which would not do so acting on their own, argued at an “Events Review Board’ meeting with the students that the students were “in breach” of Columbia rules because of outside “advertising” for the event, citing ridiculous “safety” considerations and threats of “disruption.” They threatened that they could shut it down altogether, but were, nice guys that they are, instead restricting the non-student participation to “15 or 20.”
The students immediately went on a big campaign, enlisting faculty and other student support, and succeeded on Thursday to get the original numbers restored. We were given a 7:00 PM Thursday deadline to submit a “final” list. We worked frantically to supplement the existing list and get people to submit their names. The process had been on hold while the meeting was under direct attack and we were discussing other options with the students. Unfortunately, a good number of names were submitted after 7:00 PM. There were also at least 40 names that were submitted right before 7 which the Administration claimed they didn’t get, even though we showed them the timeline on one of our comrade’s Iphone documenting the fact. But they were very rigid at the door. Many more people RSVPs on Thursday night and Friday all day past the “deadline.” Our phone and emails were ringing and pinging off the wall; we emailed and spoke on the phone to as many people as humanly possible giving the objective facts, which were that it was very unlikely that they would get in and that the students and we would fight to get everyone in that we could and the choice of whether to risk it by coming was a decision individuals would have to make. We did manage to get in quite a few but, many were turned away despite our and the students efforts. In addition to the 100 or so turned away, many of whom had been confirmed at the last minute before the arbitrary deadline (the injustice of which was further underlined by the last-minute attempt to minimize the event) there were many, many more who wanted to come and had submitted their names, until they heard of the bureaucratic labyrinth they faced and stayed home.
Nevertheless, 200 people or more were finally in attendance, and by all accounts it was an excellent program and event. But we are very certain it would have been perhaps the largest event ever in the US for the Cuban Five. The entire event was videoed and we will post it on our website july26coalition.org; we will send an email once the video has been posted on the site.
Again we are very upset and aggravated by the inconvenience and really insulting treatment given to people honestly and sincerely attempting to attend a free-speech forum. We hope with this minor problem that occurred on Friday, March 29th will not affect our movement to continue to DEMAND the release of the CUBAN FIVE.
Sincerely and in solidarity,
July 26 Coalition