Don’t Join the Circus.
Milo Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley College Republicans want you to protest at UC Berkeley on February 1st.
Their reputations depend on it.
Mr. Yiannopoulos champions positions that are objectionable and offensive many times over. He compares feminism to cancer. He is openly hostile toward transgender people. He is anti-Islam and anti-Black Lives Matter. Students across the nation are demanding that their universities shut down his events, and are protesting at his appearances. Some of these protests have become dangerous. And for his supporters, each of these events is another notch in Yiannopoulis’ belt as an imagined champion of free speech. Now this hatertainment juggernaut is chugging toward its greatest conquest, UC Berkeley.
But this Breitbart Editor and conservative media darling is neither a worthy political opponent nor a powerful policy maker. He is an entertainer, and outraged protesters are part of his performance. If you protest, you are a complicit member of his cast. The louder you protest, the better you are for his act. If you’re part of the act, you help him secure future bookings. You help him sell more books when his recently announced publication hits the shelves. He’ll happily take the free advertising provided by media coverage of your outrage and ask for even more next time.
As unpaid extras in Yiannopoulos’ act, protesters provide fodder for conservative media across the nation to build a straw man of an imaginary Liberal Agenda that hates free speech and tries to suppress dissenting views. Protests will embolden the Berkeley College Republicans, who invited the speaker, to claim the part of the indignantly suppressed. They already call themselves the “New Free Speech Movement.” And although he bills himself as “Dangerous,” Yiannopoulos’ supporters would like nothing more than to make his reactionary positions seem like a rational alternative to what they’re trying to present as a dangerously opressive Left.
In a recent Daily Cal Op-Ed, BCR representatives point toward what they call a “tidal wave of hegemonic liberal thought” sweeping over downtrodden Berkeley conservatives. But vocal disagreement from those with opposing views is not a threat to their free speech — it is vital to free speech. They may feel like an ideological minority, but the only thing less endangered than Berkeley Republicans’ First Amendment rights are the abundant squirrels that control the lunch-scrap-racket all over campus.
These Republicans claim they want to demonstrate that they’re mature enough to offer an “outstretched hand of friendship” to their ungrateful and closed-minded liberal classmates. Who would want to shake that outstretched hand, when it contains a joy-buzzer in the shape of a self-aggrandizing right-wing provocateur invited with the singular purpose of “triggering?” Why wouldn’t we protest? It’s like they’re just baiting us.
Don’t take the bait.
Too much media attention has already focused on past and potential protesters, when Yiannopoulos’ and his supporters’ open hatefulness and exaggerated persecution complex should be the real center of any widespread coverage. Even the Daily Cal is guilty of fomenting protests by favoring Op-Eds with polarized views on the subject, from professors’ calls to have the event cancelled, to a queer columnist’s war cry, to the BCR’s own self-righteous defense of their actions. Of course they would want a newsworthy night to report on.
We can do better than to yell and wave angry signs in front of the Pauley Ballroom on February 1st. Let’s embrace and reclaim the example set by the Real Free Speech Movement, whose imagery the alt-right have coopted for their own misguided use. We are at a geographic center of progressive action. And progressive action must necessarily look different now than it did fifty years ago. So what can we do if not protest?
Perhaps just don’t show up to the Breitbart-Circus-extra-casting-call that will be Sproul Plaza on Wednesday night. Let all those security guards have a quiet evening. Better yet, organize an inclusive dance party somewhere else on campus to draw attention away from the troll festival.
If you can’t stay away, visit the ACLU table that will be set up outside the event. Sign up to volunteer your time or resources helping to promote real free speech and fight real threats to American liberties. Watch quietly and let the Berkeley College Republicans and their heralded guest have their free speech, but take away the ancillary drama. Without it, they’ll show themselves for what they truly are.