Last week, I, a progressive, attended Values Voter Summit. I was there to soak up the conservative vibes and better understand the far-right. I expected to leave with nothing more than a disconcerted feeling, having listened to people disparage gay and transgender people and degrade women’s health for two days. Instead, I left with what every college student wants most: a $25 Chipotle gift card.
Here’s what happened. It was Saturday and I was at the first breakout session of the afternoon, “The Silencing of Free Speech for Christians in the Media and in Education.” The session was a panel on Christian persecution, which according to panelists Dave Garrison of Ohio Christian University, Kate Obenshain of Fox News, and Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Institute, is sweeping the nation through things like gay rights and reproductive freedom.
Obenshain opened the session by calling for any students in the audience (whom she probably assumed were all from Liberty University, since the event was heavily attended by LU students) who knew the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. If anyone wanted to come to the front of the room and recite it, she said, they would be rewarded with a $25 gift card to Chipotle. Her challenge was met with silence. The group of LU students sitting at the front of the room apparently either did not know the Preamble to the Constitution that every speaker at the Summit had invoked, or were too nervous to stand in front of the crowd.
Obenshain asked again, and when she was met with silence again she said she would open the floor to any adults in the room.
It was at that moment that I thought, “Hey, I’m a student… I’ve known the Preamble since 7th grade… I like Chipotle…” and raised my hand. I was called to the front of the room and handed a microphone. Pausing after each clause (because I had memorized the Preamble by watching Schoolhouse Rock and needed to sing it in my head), I recited the Preamble. The crowd applauded, Shackelford shook my hand, and I was handed my reward. I hurried back to my seat, met on my way back with high fives from older men in the audience.
Not to sound ungrateful for free food, but I’ve often considered that, if I could do that day again, I might do a few things differently. In a perfect world, I would have identified myself, and let it sink in that the person in the room who knew the Constitution was a progressive college student there for an internship with a progressive organization.
All in all, at least after a weekend of homophobia, transphobia, and thinly veiled racism and misogyny, I got a good story… and four free burritos.