U.C. Berkeley and the Difference Between Protest and Censorship

U.C. Berkeley and the Difference Between Protest and Censorship

Following the protests that broke out at U.C. Berkeley on Wednesday night, President Trump took to Twitter to hint at a federal defunding of the University on the grounds of free speech—or hypocrisy, writes Alex Kazemi.

Following the protests that broke out at U.C. Berkeley on Wednesday night, President Trump took to Twitter to hint at a federal defunding of the University on the grounds of free speech—or hypocrisy, writes Alex Kazemi.

Text: Alex Kazemi

On Wednesday night, protests at the University of California, Berkeley, prompted the school to cancel the final stop on Milo Yiannopoulos's Dangerous Faggot tour promoting his forthcoming autobiography, Dangerous. For those who are unfamiliar with Yiannopoulos, he is a divisive right-wing writer for Breitbart, the "news" outlet formerly run by White House adviser Steve Bannon. He was banned from Twitter last year after cyberbullying Leslie Jones, and has previously referred to feminism as a "cancer."

Yiannopoulos, along with other members of the right-wing media, have blamed what happened at the University on a lack of tolerance for freedom of speech—an argument that's as shaky as it is hypocritical. We should be looking at the reason students and ANTIFA groups were televised on every American news network breaking windows and starting fires in the first place. Why do members of the Right find it so sordid when liberals rightfully fight against predominantly white Christian ideologies? Why should any college students with free will have to stay silent? Is that not a form of control, a kind of psychosis? If Yiannopoulos deserves the right to spew his own propaganda, should others not have a right to express resistance?

Apparently not. Yiannopoulos posted to his Facebook the morning after the riots: “U.C. Berkeley should have all federal funding cut until it can demonstrate its commitment to the First Amendment and guarantee the safety of libertarian and conservative speakers on campus—and the safety of their audiences. Nothing less will do.” How can anyone alive on planet Earth be granted guaranteed safety, conservative or liberal? Isn't this exactly the same kind of “sensitive snowflake” public call for protecting a generation from danger that he has denounced as “safe space culture” every night on his Dangerous Faggot tour for the last year? Shouldn't we see riots and violence enticed by angry college students as just a part of the world?  Why is it the college's fault that violence, danger, and opposition exist even if it is on their own campus sometimes?  Life is full of interruptions we cannot control. Trump even tweeted yesterday hinting at federal defunding of the school (which, by the way, he has no legal right to do).

Yiannopoulos antagonized a school of liberal kids at their most emotional, and raw, just one week after Trump was made president. Why should they shut up and smile, and adhere to his emboldened fascist dogma?  Maybe it’s more about the ritual camaraderie and anarchy that comes from burning and breaking shit in the name of punk rock—people coming together to reject a vision of America they do not want to see manifest. Why can’t we be concerned that the Right wants everyone to hold hands in the name of religion? There was soul behind the violence on that night we should not ignore.

It’s clear the Right has an agenda to make the Left seem insane with continual, belittling stereotypes of what represents a liberal in an attempt to make their arguments and views seem null and void. This represents the exact same kind of censorship, silence, and lack of tolerance that the Right claims is coming from the Left. Because make no mistake: the right-wing narrative of saying, “These violent protests prove my point about liberals, they don’t value free speech” is a trap. They can call a protest censorship, but there’s a distinction—one that happens to be a hallmark of this country.

The best way for liberals to fight back is to constantly question how these struggles are portrayed by the media, and to underline the real point of protest: that there is value in everyone’s freedom of speech, and basic rights—to remind the Right that other people with different views can co-exist, and have a dialogue with one another and never ever have to agree with each other. That’s what we are fighting for in the first place.

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