Protesters recently gathered in front of the School of Communication and Media against guest speaker George E. Norcross III, the South Jersey Democratic Executive Chairman of Conner Strong and Buckelew, one of the nation’s largest brokerage firms.
Norcross was speaking as part of the Political Science and Law Salon series that explores the 2020 presidential election on Tuesday, Nov. 19. The series talks with political influencers to cover campaigns, polling and policy.
Protester Mara Novac, the political director of NJ 11th for Change and a Montclair, New Jersey resident, explained that the protesters are a coalition of grassroots independent political organizations from across the state, such as New Jersey Working Families.
“We are here because we want George Norcross to know that we are paying attention to what he is doing,” Novac said. “We are concerned that he thinks we are going to forget and that we don’t think insiders should be controlling state government.”
Norcross is a Camden, New Jersey based insurance executive and has been at the center of the political struggle over a program that offers tax credits to businesses in distressed cities. This reached its peak on Nov. 18, as police forcefully removed an activist in the back row of a Senate hearing in Trenton, New Jersey.
Jake Goetiz, freshman television and digital media major, attended the event for his American Government and Politics class.
“We were reading about him and it seemed there were really sketchy things about him because he was involved in politics and business,” Goetiz said. “It seemed like there was one piece of legislation involving tax incentives that he was using for his own personal benefit.”
Professor of Political Science and Law, Brigid Callahan Harrison set up the event and explained that they invite speakers a semester in advance.
“When I planned the event, I didn’t expect the protesters,” Harrison said. “But in light of his Senate testimony yesterday, it was relatively predictable that the protests would follow him, but the protests were incredibly peaceful.”
Captain Kieran Barrett confirmed that the protesters were all peaceful and no one had to be removed.
“University police are most always present when a political, governmental or celebrity status visits the university,” Barrett said. “Some decided that it was an event to protest with their dissatisfaction and a peaceful demonstration occurred. Police were present for the safety of all.”
Some protesters like Imani Oakley, a Newark resident and the legislature director with Working Families New Jersey, would rather have seen the event canceled after yesterday’s events.
“He had that [hearing] because he is a huge donor made from of all the taxpayer’s dollars,” Oakley said. “He took that money, made a lot of money, financed his own legislature and now he can have his own hearings where people are literally dragged out by police. It’s just unacceptable to put someone like that up on a pedestal.”
Harrison explained she wouldn’t have canceled the event even if she was given enough time to.
“I think it’s really important that students are allowed to hear speakers, I also think it’s really important that the university supports the right of protesters to come and voice their dissenting opinion,” Harrision said.
NJ 11th for Change has been invited to come and talk with students on Dec. 10 for the Salon Series due to the cancellation of another speaker.