I was going to write a more personal post today and share some social thoughts Saturday, but I can’t get these thoughts out of my brain. This post will be a combination of stream of thought sentences, links and self-quotations/reiterations from Facebook interactions earlier today.
I watched YouTuber Philip DeFranco’s video on the UC Berkeley protest of Nazi-peddler Milo Yiannopoulos’s scheduled speaking engagement (not bothering with “alt-right”–if they’re not actually affiliated with Neo-Nazi groups, they share their sentiment. Don’t like it? Not my problem.) Unfortunately, this intended peaceful protest turned into a violent riot, endangering students and guests, and peaceful protesters alike. I agree with DeFranco’s summation of peaceful protest being defensible by the First Amendment, while rioting– a documented crime by law–is not.
I’ve attended and participated in peaceful protest demonstrations, and taken different roles in them; all to this point occurred in my years as an undergraduate at West Chester University of Pennsylvania from 2010 to 2014. In some, I held up a sign silently to obstruct the view of grossly manipulated photos made to appear to show aborted fetuses. In some, I rolled in my wheelchair alongside marchers, protesting dramatic cuts to Pennsylvania’s state education budget and in defense of fair faculty contracts (faculty never went to strike while I was a student, but this past fall did result in a faculty strike and student solidarity demonstrations across the state system of higher education). In others, I yelled and screamed against the sound of religiously zealous bigots, particularly in the wake of a string of gay teen suicides in fall 2010.
With this experience, I feel subjectively qualified to know what a peaceful protest looks like and how it’s carried out safely. NOTE: This does not mean silent. The UC Berkeley protest objectively became a violent, riotous black block that will effect no change other than jail time for the rioters, not neo-Nazis , not White nationalists, and not Milo Yiannopoulos. Many on the left are cheering on the rioters, saying violence is the only way left to resist, with Trump’s executive orders pouring out like waterfalls and freedoms being stripped left and right, and no one in Congress curtailing it through a system of checks and balances.I agree that Congress’s silence on Trump’s abuses of executive power is deafening, and freedoms will be lost if he’s unchecked. However, the loss of freedom that comes with arrest and jail time is worth consideration. No major changes in legislation have come from the UC Berkeley protest, nor a similar protest on the UC Davis campus in which Yiannopoulos and Martin Shkreli were scheduled to debate; the protest canceled the event. Nothing protecting campuses in the state of California or the nation from hate speech has been passed; no lawsuits were filed. Violence only brings repercussions to the inflictors, not the speakers who provide motivation to incite violence. Therefore, much like DeFranco, I personally cannot come to the defense of the rioters.
I find figures like Yiannopoulos repugnant, but he does not hold public office. I find Richard Spencer and Steve Bannon even more repugnant with their political power in Washington, and a side of me is proud of the man who punched Spencer. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and bigotry shake me to my core, and I will never stand for them. My queer identity implies an alignment with radical politics, and in some cases I agree with them. However, I’m okay with being labeled a “bad queer” for not defending violence that unjustly hurt both supporters of and detractors from Yiannopoulos and that will only result in prosecution of those who resorted to extremes to defend the First Amendment which affords us free speech and peaceful protest, not hate speech or rioting. Rioting is not an effective response to hate speech. I will defend the right to free speech and peaceful protest and against hate speech until my last breath, but I will not incite violence or condone rioting. If I receive judgment from fellow queer friends for not being queer enough (which is a whole other post in itself), so be it. Rioters will serve jail time and will not be recognized as defenders of free speech in this case, and only they will be the ones taken from their families and friends, not White nationalists.
So that brings me to my final question: What do we do now? Neo-Nazism, White nationalism, the alt-right, whatever you want to call them, do need to be limited, but through legal means. File lawsuits against White nationalists and their groups. Sign petitions limiting the proliferation of hate speech. Hell, I would love to see Breitbart completely shut down. That’s what affects real change, my friends–using our Constitutional rights to quiet hateful voices, not tarnishing our own message with violence that hurts our cause and, more importantly, each other.