Former Vice President Mike Pence visited UNC-Chapel Hill on Wednesday to host a discussion titled “Saving America from the Woke Left,” drawing hundreds of attendees while a counterrally featuring the North Carolina Democratic chair went on outside.
The discussion, hosted by the UNC College Republicans and sponsored by the conservative Young America’s Foundation, brought a full house to the campus’ student union as well as dozens of protesters outside.
Pence delivered a wide-ranging speech, chronicling his youth and journey to conservative values, denouncing critical race theory and transgender athletes and hinting at his plans for the 2024 presidential race.
“We gather here today because I believe American freedom is under attack like never before,” he said. “Big media, big government, even big business, have locked arms to advance a pernicious woke agenda designed to control the American people and destroy the American dream.”
Outside the event, students from a variety of progressive groups organized a counter rally, entitled “This is the Woke Left,” to speak against Pence.
“When we think of UNC, we think of progress and opportunity — we don’t think of Mike Pence,” said Anderson Clayton, chair of the NC Democratic Party. “… We’re here because his vision leaves out too many people. When it comes to women’s rights and reproductive health care, rights for the LGBTQ community and gun violence prevention — Mike Pence is on the wrong side of history, y’all.”
During his speech, Pence touched on a number of issues that have moved through the North Carolina legislature this session or that are expected to come up, including abortion, transgender athletes and critical race theory.
At multiple points, Pence railed against “gender insanity” and called for a ban on transgender athletes in women’s sports.
“The woke left is in the process of destroying women’s athletics in the name of extreme gender ideology,” he said. “… Participation in sports should be determined by one’s gender at birth.”
Pence also spoke extensively about his opposition to abortion, a position shared by state GOP leadership who expect to announce new abortion restrictions this session.
“I couldn’t be more proud to have been a small part of the administration that appointed three of the justices that sent Roe vs. Wade to the ash heap of history where it belongs and give America a new beginning,” he said.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe this summer, Pence called for a national abortion ban.
During the Q&A portion of the event, a student asked Pence about a bill recently passed by the state House which would require students at UNC System schools to earn at least three credit hours in American History or American Government to graduate. Nearly 700 UNC faculty members signed on to a letter opposing the bill, saying it “substitutes ideological force-feeding for the intellectual expertise of faculty.”
“I would disagree with the professors that signed that letter,” he said. “Whatever your politics are, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States are cornerstones of the freest and most prosperous nation on earth.”
A number of state lawmakers and board members were present at the event, including Sen. Amy Galey, who sponsored the bill known as the Parents’ Bill of Rights in the legislature. The bill restricts curriculum on gender identity, sexual activity and sexuality in lower grades, and it requires teachers to potentially out LGBTQ+ students who change their pronouns.
Pence also mentioned that influential businessman and conservative activist Art Pope was present.
Pence has long been rumored to be a contender for the 2024 Republican presidential primary, and recently told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he will announce his decision on whether to run “well before” late June.
Speaking to reporters before the event, Pence declined to give further details on his plans.
“As we’ve traveled around the country we’ve gotten a lot of encouragement to enter the race for the Republican nomination for president,” he said. “I don’t have anything to announce today — but I think this country is in a lot of trouble.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, a student asked Pence his thoughts on Trump seeking the presidency again in 2024.
“It’s a free country,” he said. “Former presidents have a right to seek office again, but there might be somebody out there I support more.”
The counterrally outside, sponsored by the UNC Young Democrats, brought together over a dozen progressive groups from universities across the state to speak against the event.
“This ‘anti-woke’ rhetoric is a label for anyone outside of the conservative party,” said TJ White, president of the UNC Young Democrats. “That means Black and brown folks, women, LGBTQI —and especially the trans community right now — immigrant workers, those with disabilities, environmental activists and impoverished people … this event is much more than about Mike Pence.”
Hundreds of students showed up to attend the event, some in raucous support of Pence, others booing him during pauses and some who said they came just to hear what he thinks.
“It’s refreshing to have a conservative viewpoint at a mostly liberal-dominated university,” UNC student Logan Sterling said.
The event largely went off without major disruptions, save for an attendee who shouted, “You betrayed Trump” and “Trump trusted you” at Pence and was promptly escorted out.
“That’s a guy that needs to read the Constitution,” Pence said in response.
According to the UNC Black Student Movement, someone entered several campus buildings on Tuesday and dropped pamphlets with swastikas on them saying “Trump Pence hates queers” and “Make America Great Again.” The UNC Student Government said “signs filled with comments of hate speech” were posted and circulated.
The BSM said that Pence’s visit “has brought racist right-wing ideologies to the forefront of our campus.”
Sloan Duvall, secretary of the UNC Young Democrats, condemned the incident.
“The cowards are the ones dropping their papers on the ground — but we’re not doing that,” she said. “We’re out here speaking and we’re directly opposing the ideology that is represented on the pamphlets.”
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