Iowa State alum to speak on First Amendment Day


Courtesy of Paul Kix

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Danielle Gehr

The year is 2003; Paul Kix is a senior in journalism at Iowa State. 

This is before Kix would go on to be deputy editor for ESPN magazine, write for the New Yorker, GQ, New York, Men’s Journal and the Wall Street Journal, to name a few, and eventually publish his own book. 

At this time, Kix, former managing editor of Ethos magazine, had been tasked to work alongside others in the Greenlee School in planning the first Feast on the First, a day celebrating the First Amendment. 

He remembers being approached to work on the event by the Iowa State Daily’s editorial adviser, Mark Witherspoon, often referred to as Spoon. 

“And I was like, ‘Uh, I’m kind of busy Spoon,’ and he’s like, ‘Uh, you need to do it,'” Kix said. “I actually wanted to do it, that’s the other thing. The more he talked about it, what they had in mind, the more I thought, ‘Yeah, this is something I want to try and be involved with.'”

Now that 15 years and 14 First Amendment Days have passed, Kix will return to Iowa State after being asked to give a keynote lecture for this years First Amendment celebration. 

The first Feast on the First Amendment took place in front of Parks Library in the Agora, formerly known as the Free Speech Zone. Witherspoon said the idea of Feast on the First is to get people there by offering food and keeping them there by talking about the First Amendment. 

The first event featured faculty as speakers. This has changed over the organizers began bringing outside speakers such as Terry Anderson, an Associated Press reporter who was held captive for seven years by Shiite radicals.

Another year Dan Barker, an atheist activist who was formally an evangelical Christian preacher and musician, came to speak at the First Amendment celebration. 

While speaking in the Great Hall, someone with differing views from Barker shut off the lights and sound system 10 minutes before his lecture ended. 

“Someone who disagreed vehemently with what he was saying shut him down on First Amendment Day, but we got it back up and running and it still continued,” Witherspoon said. 

In 2005, after Veishea — a yearly spring concert which became chaotic in its last few years before being ended permanently in 2014 — was cancelled, First Amendment Day became an eight-day celebration.

Monday through Friday each day was dedicated to a different a First Amendment freedom. There were two Feasts on the First. 

On the Friday Feast on the First, the topic of religion got people discussing until long passed the 1 p.m. end time. 

“We finally at 2:30 said, ‘Excuse us, y’all can go ahead and continue the conversation all you want, but we need to take our boxes if you don’t mind,'” Witherspoon said. 

First Amendment Day in recent years lasts three days. This year, the events started on Wednesday with five Depth and Dialogue sessions and a keynote by former director of Constitutional Law for the Government of Saskatchewan John Whyte titled “Is Democracy Dying?”

Thursday following the Democalypse March, the creation of the Hashtag Mosaic and Feast on the First, Kix will speak about why the First Amendment is worth it. 

Kix said that it is really special to come back to his alma mater to speak “at the First Amendment Day no less.” 

“Just the fact that Spoon and others would want me to come back, I feel honored to do that,” Kix said, “But, just as importantly that the Greenlee School and Iowa State more broadly is still committed to issues of the First Amendment the way that we tried to talk about it that first year, that means a lot.”

His lecture, titled “Talk Is Cheap, Free Speech Isn’t: Why the First Amendment Is Worth It,” will take place at 8 p.m. in the Benton Auditorium of the Scheman Building. 

One thing Kix hopes students will take away from his lecture is the fragility of the First Amendment. 

“You think of the fragility of something like free speech, free expression, freedom of the press, the ability to assemble; we think that this is something that we’ll always have … if you take a look across other cultures and other countries, there are ways to restrict those freedoms.” 

Following the lecture and Q&A session, Kix will stick around to sign copies of his book, “The Saboteur.” 

“The Saboteur” tells the story of a French Aristocrat who became an anti-Nazi resistance fighter during France’s occupation during World War II. Kix came across the story of Robert de Ka Rouchefoucald when reading his obituary in the New York Times.

Sticking to a strict schedule of 500 words a day and spending time in France going to the landmarks of La Rouchefoucald’s life, Kix finished his first book and now is looking for his next project. 

“[Writing the book] was also very liberating in the end because I was doing it and everyday, even if the new 500 words weren’t the final form they would take, I would sort of allow myself this thought that at least I’m putting 500 new words on the page,” Kix said. “It was so satisfying that by the end of this year I wanna be able to figure out what my second book will be about.”

Witherspoon calls Kix, who was also formerly a sports editor at the Daily, one of the best writers to come out of the Greenlee School.

“Ever since I’ve known him, he has been an exceptional writer and when he started becoming a reporter, you knew he was gonna go far,” Witherspoon said. 

Kix attributes much of his success to his professors in the Greenlee School including Mark Witherspoon, Giles Fowler and Tom Emmerson saying they shaped the way he views journalism. 

“Really what they did was just try to embed within me this sense of curiosity,” Kix said. “Always be looking to learn more whether its to the story or even more broadly in life.”

Friday will wrap of the First Amendment Day events with a free expression through artmaking expression, an award ceremony and a first amendment workshop.