What a Debate Over Feet Says About the State of Gen Z Campus Activism

An on-campus publication at Georgetown University sparked a school-wide controversy — and conversation — by taking on the university’s premiere anti-abortion student group.

An on-campus publication at Georgetown University sparked a school-wide controversy — and conversation — by taking on the university’s premiere anti-abortion student group.

The Georgetown Heckler is a student-run humor magazine known for its satirical headlines and articles about anything and everything Georgetown University. In early February, though, 2 students, David Edwards and Evelyn Blanchett, who were working at the publication, turned their attention to a new target: Georgetown Right to Life (GURTL) — and its logo, specifically.

“It’s kind of odd, their logo,” Edwards told the Georgetown Voice. “It’s a big foot and a heart.”

Edwards said the idea came when both orgs were “tabling,” a.k.a. setting up a public presence on campus to attract interested students who pass by.

“Last semester, [GURTL was] tabling, and we were looking at their banner … We were like, ‘Why the foot? Is it like a foot fetish thing?’” he recalled to the Voice. “And so, we were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we made the exact same banner as them, but for feet, and got next to them?’”

And so “Georgetown Right to Feet” was born.

Edwards and Blanchette set up their table less than 10 feet away (pun intended) from GURTL, sat down, and proudly showed feet to the hundreds of people walking through Georgetown’s Red Square. Students, faculty members, and even parents stopped at the table to see what was going on. The 2 said many of them took pictures, some took flyers, and almost everyone thought it was hilarious.

However, as the day went on, GURTL started to take issue with Right to Feet, filing a number of complaints with the Center for Student Engagement (CSE) over The Georgetown Heckler’s use of the word “Georgetown”; their heart and foot logo on Right to Feet’s banner; and “Georgetown University Right to Feet” flyers, which contained a QR code for Planned Parenthood donations.

Georgetown Right to Life Logo

A university official spoke to Right to Feet to address the complaints. Although the CSE failed to find any rule violations, Edwards and Blanchette agreed to remove their flyers and obscure their signage in exchange for the ability to keep their table up for the rest of the day.

In the days since, Edwards and Blanchette claim they’ve made numerous attempts to clarify Georgetown's free speech and expression rules, including sending emails to the administration — though they received no response. Regardless, the Georgetown Heckler decided to continue tabling as the Right to Feet and hasn’t had any issues since.

In fact, you could argue the opposite. Since Right to Feet’s inception, The Georgetown Heckler has begun selling merchandise and has raised hundreds of dollars in on-campus donations for Planned Parenthood.

In our interview, Blanchette and Edwards repeatedly made it clear that they didn’t set out to be activists. They made repeated mention of how H*yas for Choice (HFC), Georgetown’s main abortion-rights club, is a far more effective advocacy organization. Both praised the work HFC does, as well as its impact on the student body.

And yet, The Georgetown Heckler’s actions have, at least from our conversations with students, raised more awareness of the topic than HFC has. As Georgetown Freshman A.J. Shpetner put it, “It was so out there and absurd. How could anyone ignore it?”

At the time of this piece’s publication, GURTL had not responded to our request for comment.

The Georgetown Heckler may have stirred up controversy on its own campus, but in the larger zeitgeist of Gen Z’s activism, incidents of unorthodox, direct action like the magazine’s aren’t rare. Recently, young people have used increasingly absurd and extreme measures to make their voices heard. In December 2022, climate change activists went viral after they threw soup on themselves and glued themselves to the wall beneath a Vincent van Gogh painting at the National Gallery in London. That incident then inspired similar protests in places like Australia, France, and Germany.

Displaying bare feet in the middle of a college campus are objectively absurd tactics to use to raise awareness for abortion-rights organizations and policies. Some would even argue such irreverent protests are disrespectful, as they can be interpreted as minimizing the severity of the issue.

And yet, these tactics work. The Georgetown Heckler’s protest was covered by larger outlets in and around D.C., just like how the climate activists in London made international headlines.

To Edwards and Blanchette, the absurdity was used to draw attention to the on-campus anti-abortion group, not to the overall issue.

“It was more about making fun of the Right to Life people than abortion itself,” Edwards told us. Eveyln underscored that point, adding that, for many Georgetown students, it felt good to see the Right to Life club get satirized at a time when reproductive rights are on the chopping block nationwide.

Edwards made specific note of how abortion-rights policies had won a massive battle at the Supreme Court in 2022 with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the landmark Dobbs case. He argued that such forms of protest were “punching up at a group who won a massive victory recently” and have the force of the law on their side.

This distinction is key in understanding these protests. Increasingly, Gen Z-led activism is about more than the cause itself; it’s also about the political battle around the cause. Gen Zer are straying away from high-minded philosophical debates for their own sakes and focusing more on highlighting how the opposing movements affect people in the day to day of the real world, even if that means taking direct actions that would have, until very recently, been considered disgusting or crass. In a world as online and oversaturated as that of Gen Z, the most impactful activists maintain that absurd, edgy, and outrageous choices are the only ways to break through the noise.

The question now is how far these attention-grabbing acts can go. First and foremost, it’s important to understand that these incidents are based on shock factor. Edwards and Blanchette said it themselves: You need some level of shock to break through the monotony that’s come to define Gen Z’s overstimulated lifestyle. Also, human nature tells us that shock is a relative emotion, that, eventually, what is shocking now will become mainstream if it is reused enough. Evelyn made note of this when she explained that even The Georgetown Heckler’s movement lost steam when it couldn’t find ways to maintain their stunts' outrageousness and newsworthiness.

And yet, Edwards and Blanchette seemed optimistic. Perhaps that’s why Gen Z so steadfastly focuses on politics: not because they want to fight, but because they need to keep each other engaged. Maybe, in such an oversaturated environment, expanding the parameters of what counts as “legitimate” activism is the only way to keep people interested in the issues.

That's not to say anything goes or that there’s no line you can’t cross. Rather, “controversies” like the one at Georgetown serve as a reminder that, in a world dominated by doomer headlines and persistent feelings of helplessness, caring is a commodity in itself.


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LeftMiddleRight is a student-led organization dedicated to fighting partisan media and creating spaces for contemporary exploration of political and cultural issues that often involve differences of opinion.