A sometimes tense but mostly uneventful press conference late Tuesday morning at the DoubleTree sprang to life after a diverse group of some 150 people stormed the downtown Madison hotel's lobby, then forced their way into the adjacent banquet room where the press conference was wrapping up.
The 11 a.m. press conference featured Roger Clegg, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity. He was formally announcing two studies by the CEO that purport to show whites and Asians aren't getting a fair crack at being admitted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Center for Equal Opportunity -- a conservative think tank based in Sterling, Va., that pushes "colorblind public policies" and backs the elimination or curtailment of existing racial preference and affirmative action programs -- claims that UW-Madison gives "African-Americans and Latinos preference over whites and Asians" in admissions.
About 50 minutes into Clegg's press conference -- in which he took questions from media members, students and UW-Madison faculty -- noise erupted outside the banquet room. Protesters, most of whom were UW-Madison students, could easily be heard chanting "Power to the people!"
Shortly thereafter, I attempted to leave the press conference to check out the commotion. But by that time, hotel personnel had locked the doors of the banquet room, which open into the lobby, and were holding them shut so the activists outside couldn't get in.
Cap Times photographer Mike DeVries, however, was in the hotel's lobby and captured the protesters with his camera. DeVries reports students were locked out of the main entrance of the DoubleTree before one of them entered the hotel through the food services entrance and then allowed everyone else inside.
A statement released by Tom Ziarnik, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton Madison, states that "when threats were made by the protesters to rush the hotel, we secured all entrances to the property. Many protesters were telling us to ‘call the police' and ‘we want to be arrested.' Unfortunately when escorting meeting attendees out of the hotel through a private entrance, staff were then rushed by a mob of protesters, throwing employees to the ground."
Madison Police then arrived on the scene, according to Ziarnik.
About 10 minutes after first bursting into the DoubleTree's lobby, a large group of boisterous protesters finally forced their way into the banquet room. Clegg, who had wrapped up his presentation, was meeting informally with reporters. He quickly gathered his belongings after protesters shouted him down. Although some were getting in Clegg's face and chanting, he was able to make his way through the throng. He eventually left the banquet room and headed up an elevator and out of the hotel lobby.
By then, more than 100 students had taken over the banquet room and a handful took turns talking about the importance of the protest of Clegg's appearance, with some urging those in attendance to "make your voices heard" and continue to speak out against those who want to kill affirmative action programs. One person held a sign reading "Affirmative Action Equals Opportunity."
The Center for Equal Opportunity "is attacking more than affirmative action," says protester C.J. Terrell, a 23-year-old Madison native who went to UW-Milwaukee and is attempting to get into UW-Madison. "They're trying to implement a system where they attack the ability of minorities to achieve in higher education. They're trying to leave us out of the system. And it's a system that hasn't included us for very long, so it's really a shame. We're trying to speak up and stymie this."
It was another 45 minutes before all student activists had left the DoubleTree, 525 W. Johnson St. A half-dozen Madison Police still standing outside the hotel's main entrance at that time said no arrests were made. Ziarnik of the DoubleTree said in his statement that no property was damaged.
A number of student organizations are expected to make their voices heard again at 6 p.m. Tuesday during a rally atop Bascom Hill to support diversity initiatives at UW-Madison.
Meanwhile, the location of a debate scheduled for Tuesday night focusing on affirmative action and higher education has been moved due to anticipated heavy interest in the topic. The 7 p.m. debate between Clegg and Larry Church, a UW-Madison law professor and constitutional scholar -- will be held in Varsity Hall of Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St.