PROVO — What had seemed to be a failing cause — Brigham Young University students trying to fund an alternative commencement speaker — received a considerable boost Monday, thanks in large part to Internet postings from a local filmmaker.
Shortly after director Steven Greenstreet posted an impassioned blog and video footage from an April 4 protest at BYU, the donations started pouring in. The same postings that may have inspired such generosity, however, drew harsh criticism from many depicted in the video, including the event's organizer.
"I thought it was sensationalized; I understand some of these groups are looking for a revolution, but I'm looking more for reform," said Diane Bailey, president of the BYU College Democrats club and organizer of the protest. "That's media, and we knew getting into this that some journalists would try to find out our real motives and some journalists would try to make a buck."
A group of BYU students, faculty members and alumni received donations totaling more than $12,000 in just a few hours Monday afternoon, reaching and exceeding their goal of $20,000 to fund an alternative commencement to be held at Utah Valley State College's McKay Events Center. BYU invited Vice President Dick Cheney to be the official commencement speaker, a decision that has sparked debate among many affiliated with the university.
The rush of donations came shortly after Greenstreet — director of "This Divided State," a documentary about the controversy surrounding Michael Moore's visit to UVSC in 2004 — posted his blog on The Daily Kos, a national Web log. In the blog, he wrote about the April 4 demonstration on the BYU campus in protest of Cheney's planned visit. He went on to outline the subsequent efforts of a group of BYU students to organize an alternate commencement ceremony featuring Ralph Nader, Pete Ashdown and human rights advocate Jack Healey. Greenstreet concluded by imploring readers to donate, saying students still needed to raise $9,000 in four days.
Within four hours, Greenstreet said, the group had received more than $12,000 in donations.
"It was this incredibly powerful testimony to the power of democracy and independent media," Greenstreet said. "You always hear stories of grass-roots activism, but I've never been in the middle of it like I was today."
Along with the blog posting, Greenstreet provided a link to video footage from the end of the April 4 protest — a clip that shows BYU administrators forcibly ending the protest, confiscating signs and forcing protesters out of their designated protest area. Additionally, a portion of an open question-and-answer session with BYU President Cecil L. Samuelson is shown.
The blog writings and video clip — made widely available through YouTube and other Web sites — were, however, judged to be misleading and deceiving by many associated with BYU.
"It is certainly a misrepresentation of the events that took place at the demonstration, as well as the events at the Q&A," said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. "I think that this focuses on the last two minutes rather than the entire demonstration."
In the blog post, Greenstreet wrote about the question-and-answer session, saying Samuelson told "an outraged student who had his sign taken to basically 'go f*** himself." In the video, Samuelson is actually shown to answer, "The school is not afraid of anything, Adam, thanks for your input." Adam Barlow, the student portrayed in the video asking the question, said Greenstreet's writings don't match up with what actually happened.
"I think it's a gross misrepresentation of what went on," Barlow said. "It's deceiving because he didn't say that. I have a lot of respect for President Samuelson, and it hurts to see people misuse events that took place."