Ben Stern — a 95-year-old Polish Jew who survived two ghettos, two death marches and nine concentration camps — is set to be the featured speaker at Cal Poly’s 16th annual “Change the Status Quo: A Social Justice Conference.”
Stern is the subject of the documentary “Near Normal Man,” which explores his role in waging a public battle against the Nazis, the ACLU and Chicago Jewish leadership in his hometown of Skokie, Illinois, in the 1970s. The event kicks off Friday with a screening of the documentary and question-and-answer session with filmmaker Charlene Stern. Stern’s keynote is set for Saturday, when he will focus on First Amendment rights and hate speech, according to Cal Poly.
After World War II, Stern and his family emigrated to Skokie, where Stern was drawn into a legal battle with Nazis, who wanted to march through the town, and the ACLU, who defended the Nazis’ right to march. The ensuing First Amendment case led all the way to the Supreme Court in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie.
Stern made headlines again in 2017 when The Washington Post published a story about Stern allowing a 31-year-old granddaughter of Nazis to move into his home.
Cal Poly has been the center of the “free-speech-or-hate-speech” debate in recent months as a series of controversial campus speaker decisions — Milo Yiannopoulos, Lauren Southern, Bill Whittle — drew heated protest.
In addition, the conference will feature a number of workshops with presenters that include San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, representatives from NAACP San Luis Obispo County, Cal Poly Cross Cultural Centers, Women’s March San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Dream Center and UndocuAlly Working Group.
The Friday film screening is free and open to the public. Individual tickets for the conference are $15 for students and $20 for community members; ticket prices increase an additional $5 at the door. Information about the conference, including a schedule and registration details, is available at www.csq.calpoly.edu.