Students, alumni react to Dick Cheney's visit

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BELOIT - Beloit College students and alumni are planning to use former Vice President Dick Cheney's visit this evening to raise money for a good cause.

"We are not opposed to him coming. We think it's a bad faith gesture that won't do any good for the college. The more people come to see him talk, the more money will go to a good cause. We want to make it clear that we are going to make something positive out of this event," said organizer Tobias Gurl, from Beloit College's class of 2012.

Gurl explained that alumni of the college have already pledged to raise $9,000 as a positive way to react to the event. Proceeds raised in the fundraiser titled "Wunsiedel: The Dick Cheney Fundraiser for Immigrant Rights" will go to RAICES, a nonprofit organization offering legal help to immigrants and refugees.

For every attendee at a Young Americans for Freedom event, members of the fundraiser pledge to donate an amount of their choice to RAICES. With a projected attendance of 450, and 70 individual donors and counting, Wunsiedel anticipates the donation total to keep growing.

"While most of our donors aren't happy that Mr. Cheney is making an appearance, we've all agreed that the best thing we can do for the college, free speech, and the world at large, is to host a fundraiser for a good cause rather than directly protesting the event. Our members all love Beloit, and we're deeply committed to helping the college. Alumni from all over the political spectrum have come together to support immigrants and refugees because our education at Beloit taught us about creativity, problem solving, good humor and civic conscience," Gurl said.

Wunsiedel, the name of the fundraiser, takes its inspiration from the German town of Wunsiedel, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess. Wunsiedel has learned to cope with Nazi groups who parade through their streets by turning their marches into walk-a-thons for an organization that helps white supremacists leave the movement. For every step the marchers take, residents send money to the EXIT Germany initiative in their name.

Gurl said he got the idea after a discussion on the alumni group's Facebook page. Some people wanted to protest and others thought it would be best to ignore the visit.

Gurl said the event featuring Cheney and former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who will serve as moderator, is not being held in a way to promote real dialogue. Gurl said he believes Young Americans for Freedom's goal is to provoke a reaction from those who oppose the speakers, therefore turning the event into a confrontation about free speech.

When asked if people deserve the chance to hear what he has to say, Gurl said students deserve to hear those with a genuine desire to teach and answer questions, even if it's challenging or with high emotions.

"It is a fact Cheney has been through countless interviews and it is unlikely a student from Beloit College will rattle him beyond prepared lines," Gurl said.

Gurl said he is grateful for the college giving him the chance to speak his mind and he wants to see the college preserved for the next generation of students.

He said speakers invited to the college should genuinely want the best for student education and not use the college as a political tool in an attempt to make a larger point about liberal arts.

"We have great students on campus right now. They shouldn't be used as pawns by a national organization that doesn't know or care about Beloit," Gurl said.

Gurl said he doesn't expect a lot of anti-Cheney activities this evening. Those who are opposed are not calling it a protest. He said some students are organizing a block party and providing alternative venues for students to attend for the evening.

Tobias Gurl lives in Seattle, Washington. He works for LGBTQ Allyship, an organization that developed out of a union organizing in the mid 2000s. He was recently featured in the Beloit College magazine for his organizing efforts in Iowa and Washington state.

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