What if that liberal prefers to refer to himself as a socialist? What if he is comfortable with the label “anarchist” and questions the legitimacy of the power of any government, including our own? How would such a person be received in Knoxville?
The answer might surprise you. It certainly surprised me. I intended this blog to be about the speech Noam Chomsky gave at UT tonight. I hoped to have a picture or two to post. I didn’t get in. I arrived about twenty minutes before the scheduled start and was immediately confronted with hundreds of people in a line that flowed from the entrance to the Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Gym, down the hill and around the side of Neyland Stadium. The speech had been moved there because of the anticipated size of the crowd and it proved to be far too small. I’m told the doors were closed at 5:30, a full hour and half before the speech was to begin.
As I was walking toward the front of the line to see if perhaps the doors had not been opened for some reason, the people near the doors began walking down the hill. Further entry was denied due to the building reaching capacity. Hundreds of people left disappointed. Once I re-entered the parking garage to leave, people were still arriving hoping to see the speech. It was stunning.
I’m not sure if he spoke about linguistics – he is considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics – or behavioral psychology, philosophy or politics, each subjects about which he has written numerous books, but it was obvious that this man who does not run from left-leaning political labels that are used as political curse words in today’s discourse, was given a very warm reception.
In the shadow of the stadium that a few decades ago hosted Richard Nixon, along with tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters and a few dissenters, a liberal came and was welcomed. Could Knoxville possibly be entering a more politically tolerant phase? Are there that many anarchists among us? I don’t know. I do know that many people supported an appearance by a liberal and many left disappointed at having missed him. Maybe there are simply that many fans of linguistics in our little town.