TEDxCUNY Disrupted by Public Outrage

Protesters Accuse Conference of Unfair Treatment

By Clifford Michel

Demonstrators interrupted several performance during TEDxCUNY’s 2015 “Borders and Belonging” event this past November, arguing that the organizers of the event treated an undocumented immigrant unfairly.

Two individuals climbed onto the stage in BMCC’s Tribeca Performing Arts Center, blocked the signature “TED” letters, and held up a sign that read: “TEDxCUNY doesn’t speak 4 undocumented migrants.”

J.A. Strub, the individual who was delivering his TED talk at the moment, asked security to not remove the pair from the stage, but also asked if he could have his chance to speak. One of the demonstrators shook her head and the two remained on stage.

A handful of TEDxCUNY organizers and speakers gathered around the protestors to ask them what was wrong; one even offered the duo a microphone to speak up.

After a series of short and often inaudible exchanges it was still unclear why the two were protesting.

A third demonstrator threw small sheets of paper at audience members with a statement and a url to a blog post written by Sonia Guinansaca, a speaker who was listed on fliers handed out to attendees but didn’t seem to be in attendance.

The statement accused TEDxCUNY with not providing a safe space for certain speakers.

“Problematic, oppressive, racist, misogynistic behaviors and lack of professionalism has forced one of the speakers out of this opportunity to speak at TEDxCUNY,” the statement read.

“What is striking is that at an event housed under the concept of borders, one of the few migrant and formerly undocumented women of color would be limited in time and directed to move forward with neither her version of her talk nor her own strategy of self-determination that centers her community,” the statement continued.

Guinansaca, who identifies herself as a “migrant queer poet activist and organizer,” echoed a similar sentiment in her blogpost.

Guinansaca said that members of the TEDxCUNY team who were in charge of reviewing her talk, asked her to cut out a portion of her talk where she listed undocumented migrant artists because it wasn’t conducive to the format of a TED talk.

Guinansaca argued in the blog post that she refused to make any changes because she was asked in an untimely manner and said that the changes compromised her talk.

“Our stories are not a competition but a disruption of the rampant violence we face,” Guinansaca wrote. “This entire situation has again emphasized that my community’s perspective is central to my work and that the experiences of migrant and undocumented lives must come from the community within.”

“I was affirmed yet again of the fragility of white american masculinity and the ongoing commodification of migrant stories in a particular, comfortable and sellable package that does not disrupt privilege, white supremacy, and misogyny.”

The two demonstrators remained on stage throughout the duration of another TED talk, this one presented by, Robina Asti, a 94 year old transgender World War II veteran.

Shortly after, the two left the stage with two other supporters and declined to tell the Banner where they were from.

“We’re friends,” said the demonstrator who passed out fliers.

After all the speakers finished their talks, students who helped organize this year’s TEDxCUNY event gave a statement promising to be more open minded going forward and admitting that the situation could have been handled better.

Due to deadline issues, the Banner wasn’t able to reach out to organizers from TEDxCUNY for a statement on the demonstration or for the full text of the statement they gave.

Categories: Campus, News

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