In February 1983, the AU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) invited Interior Secretary James Watt to campus. Watt’s appointment was controversial. As Interior Secretary, Watt was responsible for over 350 million acres of federal lands. He repeatedly called for the development of federal parks and wilderness preserves in order to maintain U.S. national security.
YAF distributed the bulk of the tickets (300 out of 400) for this event on an invitation only basis. Watt had a large security detail including special Interior Department and Washington, D.C. police. According to The Eagle, the Secretary’s speech was “briefly interrupted on about five occasions mostly by loud coughs and some isolated jeers calling Watt a fraud.”
An hour before Watt’s speech began, approximately 150 demonstrators gathered both outside and in the lobby of Ward to protest his environmental policies. The protesters chanted, “Watt must go” and sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” A few shouted into classrooms while classes were in session. The two most common signs were “Watt’s wrong,” and “Squat on Watt.” AU College Democrats, AU Americans for Democratic Action and the Environmental Law Group organized the protest.