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Protest leader walks fine line

She tries to protect Y. and church from ridicule

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2007 12:12 a.m. MDT

Diane Bailey, president of BYU's College Democrats, seeks to show that Democrats can still be good church members. (Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News) Diane Bailey, president of BYU's College Democrats, seeks to show that Democrats can still be good church members. (Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News)
PROVO — Last semester, weekly meetings of the College Democrats club at Brigham Young University drew three or four people.
The club shot out of obscurity this month when new club president Diane Bailey organized an on-campus political protest to criticize the record of Vice President Dick Cheney, who will be BYU's commencement speaker on Thursday. Bailey will oversee a second campus demonstration hours before Cheney speaks.
The remarkable sight of a sit-in on the private, religious and — most important to national and international media — largely conservative campus thrust Bailey into a spotlight that spawned an invitation from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
An appearance on the Comedy Central cable TV hit would be a huge honor for most American college students, but it's one Bailey ultimately turned down.
That decision illustrated the fine line Bailey has walked since BYU announced that the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had invited Cheney to speak at the church's flagship school, where Bailey teaches a Sunday School class in her student congregation.
The 20-year-old student from Alamo, Calif., has balanced a delicate set of values as a Democrat protesting Cheney's actions while ardently trying to protect her school and church from ridicule or negative press.
She's been a little like a circus elephant teetering on a little stool.
Better make that a donkey.
Bailey will leave it all behind Friday when she flies to Washington, D.C., for a full-time, joint internship with the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's events office.
"It's been so insane going from a club people didn't even know existed to getting calls from the New York Times," Bailey said. "'The Daily Show' is the Holy Grail for college news — or fake college news — but 'The Daily Show' makes fun of people. That's why people watch.
"It wouldn't be a big deal if they were to make fun of our club, because it is funny, but it's something else if it's BYU or the church."
Meanwhile, some members of her faith who jumped to the wrong conclusions about the campus protest have called for the LDS Church to revoke her temple recommend — the tiny, thin piece of paper that grants access to the church's 124 temples around the world. They've also criticized the BYU administrators who approved the sit-in, wondering aloud when they will put down the "student insurrection" and regain control of campus.
In classes, fellow students told Bailey she embarrassed BYU and the church. Many believed she was criticizing the LDS Church's First Presidency, the three men who invited Cheney.
But Bailey and the club's literature is clear: Club members will welcome Cheney to campus, where Bailey is anxious to see more political speakers and political dialogue. But while protecting the church and supporting the BYU administration, College Democrats oppose Cheney's policies and don't think he is a role model for graduates.
"They have tried to mark out that distinction between protesting the administration and protesting the individual the administration has invited to come," said the club's adviser, BYU political science professor Richard Davis. "That's a fine line that I'm sure has gotten lost in the minds of many people."
Other students have reacted in a kinder, gentler way.
"The positive reactions are those who say, 'I never knew this could happen at BYU,"' Bailey said.
Administrators also reacted positively. "I'm proud of Diane," said Vern Heperi, the dean of students who approved the club's protests. "She has done superbly well. The student activity was managed within all the university guidelines. She's been respectful. She's been open to communication and coordination and, I think this is important, she's been good to her word."
Heperi also praised David Lassen, president of the College Republicans, who held a rally at the same time as Bailey's Democrats.
"Their voices were heard," Heperi said of the two clubs, "but they were compliant to the guidelines set by the university."
A year ago, Bailey served on a student committee that sought to reform the university's policies on public forums.
"The reason there wasn't (a sanctioned political campus protest) for more than 15 years is students assumed it was against school policy, which it's not," she said. "As soon as I heard Cheney was invited, within 10 minutes I was picking up the appropriate forms. The next day I submitted a two-page proposal so I could give it the time for planning and to go up the chain."
Still, she felt pressure not to embarrass an administration that surprised many by approving the protest, or the church to which she is faithful.
"I was so scared," Bailey said. "I threw up that morning. I wasn't sleeping the week before or eating well."
She warned the demonstrators — as many as 300 would join the rally over two hours — that she was the sit-in's organizer and wouldn't allow chanting or anything that might be perceived as an attack on the LDS Church. She forced four people to put away signs that included pictures of LDS leaders like Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, even though each of the signs expressed support for church leaders.
Bailey said she feared someone might look at pictures or videotape of protestors holding the signs and leap to the wrong conclusion that demonstrators were protesting against the church leaders.
Still, criticism posted on the Internet grew cruel, she said.
"That wears you down," she said. "There is nothing more important to me than the church."
A number of Utah LDS, including many church leaders, have struggled for decades to budge the entrenched Republican bent that has become part of the state's Mormon culture but isn't as prevalent in the church elsewhere in the United States or evident in other countries, where the majority of church members live.
Bailey has relied daily on Davis, the club's adviser.
"I've been quite impressed with Diane because there is this perception that there is a political gospel, that the church has a political viewpoint and all the members share that viewpoint," Davis said. "In reality, there is not a political gospel, not a political viewpoint. Members are free to say and work as they wish as far as political causes. "(Diane) is showing students at BYU and a larger audience that, yes, of course you can be an active member of the church and take a number of positions," Davis said, "including those that are in opposition to the (Bush) administration. This is a great lesson for people to see that that is the case."
"You can still abide by the (church's) Article of Faith that talks about sustaining the leaders of your country without forgoing your right to criticize. It doesn't mean you can't disagree with them or work actively to get them out of office. Who was leading the charge against Bill Clinton in 1998? Our own Chris Cannon. If you took that Article of Faith too literally, that couldn't have happened."
Her activist mother taught her to go through channels before resorting to civil disobedience. "Most of the time," Bailey said, "if you ask the administration for permission, or get a permit from the government, people are happy to let you express your opinion."
Thursday's demonstration by the College Democrats won't criticize Cheney at all, Bailey said. Instead, club members will offer suggestions for future U.S. policies while encouraging graduates to make a difference in the world politically.
If that isn't very radical, Bailey isn't worried. She's been in "real" protests in California, but she recognizes she's more moderate than many Democrats.
"For a liberal," College Democrats managing secretary Carl Brinton said, "she's really conservative."
"Yeah, if I went to UCLA, I'd be a Republican," Bailey said.
The last month might have undermined her effort to graduate magna cum laude next year in international relations, with a minor in French studies. She estimates that she made 75 percent of her classes but did no homework for several weeks.
The stress has required outside support.
"With the hate mail coming in, I like to call my parents and have them tell me I'm still a good daughter," Bailey said. She told a reporter that if he spoke to her parents, he should tell them she called them the world's greatest.
"I think I'm $300 over on my cell phone bill for last month, and I'm already at my limit for minutes this month," she said with a laugh. "I've never spoken on the phone so much in my life."
It's worth it, she said, because others are talking, too.
"I really love walking between classes and hearing people debating Cheney's policies."
She even thinks the events surrounding Cheney's visit to BYU might help her dating life, in a backwards sort of way. "I've gone on a lot of first dates, and then they found out I'm president of the College Democrats and I never hear from them again," she said.
"Now I think pretty much everyone must know."


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