The Milo protests did not go well

So, you might have read on the news that there were some protests at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1st because Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to come speak. I was there from about 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Here are 3 thoughts I wanted to share.

1. Students weren’t there to riot. Those were random adults nobody knew.

When I arrived at the protest, there was no violence going on of any sort. According to a news report,

The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest[.]

To be fair and balanced, let’s hear Fox News’ take on it:

a small group dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts used metal barricades to break windows, threw smoke bombs and flares, used a diesel generator to start a large bonfire outside the building.

Yeah. I talked to one of these guys, and he told me he was 47. This group had a full-on Communist flag, masks for tear gas, and all manner of ridiculous equipment. They were clearly trying to start something, and were making a point to get as much media attention they could. Meanwhile, Berkeley students were sending Snapchats and doing this:

Gavin making hearts at the camera. You’re internet famous now!

Not exactly the “violent thugs” you were picturing, eh?

About 200 feet from the big fire that every news camera gravitated towards, there was an equally large crowd dancing around in a drum circle. This protest was not the violent uprising that most news outlets made it out to be. Well over 90% of people were just there to peacefully protest or see what was happening.

2. Protestors were being jerks to the Trump supporters there.

Bless the few souls who decided to show up in their MAGA hats. For a peaceful protest, I was shocked at the sheer level of hatred and aggression these people exhibited towards Trump supporters. AFAIK, not a single one of the Trump supporters attempted to do anything except talk to people and see what was going on. Meanwhile, people were crowding around them, waving a Communist flag in their face, and yelling things in their ear like:

“Nazi!”

“Fascist!”

“Scum!”

A conversation I had with the aforementioned 47-year old protester really illuminated the stupidity of this tactic to me. To paraphrase, he essentially said “If you punch Nazis in the face they’ll think twice about being Nazis.”

Really? I don’t think so. Fox News is having a field day describing our university as a collection of extremist thugs, and white nationalists everywhere have just solidified their belief that their people and culture are under attack. Even our dear President just dropped us a Twitter mention:

The scary thing is, he totally would do it.

Nobody gets won over this way. I have no love for Trump or his supporters, but this tactic will not work. Come on, people.

While I’m on the topic, shoutout to the Berkeley police, who showed incredible restraint and clearly were trying very hard not to hurt anyone. While I was there, they announced that the gathering was “unlawful” and threatened to use rubber bullets and tear gas several times, but in reality did almost nothing but stand around.

3. This is exactly what Milo wants

One of the core arguments that Milo makes in his tour is that the left is intolerant of free speech and refuses to hear opposing arguments. I haven’t read the intense back-and-forth from preceding weeks about whether it’s okay to allow this guy to come speak. Maybe it did pose a threat to the safety of Berkeley students. I don’t know. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

What I do know is that Milo is happy as a clam right now. He thrives on the negative publicity that events like this generate.

The alt right is loving it

Why give Milo the moral high ground? I genuinely don’t understand the point of view that says giving speaking opportunities to the right wing legitimizes their views. Hello? Are we living in the same country? Clearly hardline conservatives don’t need anything from us to win elections. UC Berkeley is not the gatekeeper of public discourse. Milo has plenty of platforms to spread his ideas outside of what would have been a relatively small and boring university talk.

Conclusion

My Facebook has been blowing up, with people quickly taking sides on whether to be proud or ashamed of our school. I don’t really know how to feel, but I hope everyone can agree on one thing: This was not the best outcome.

It’s sad that national media doesn’t swoop in with their helicopters and live streams when Berkeley makes a breakthrough in scientific research, or organizes thousands of volunteers to give back to the local community. The rest of the world only sees narrow portions of our rich and diverse campus life, selectively edited and framed for maximum controversy. But clearly, Berkeley sometimes has the capacity to capture the national conversation. When we speak, it matters.

Next time, let’s choose our words a bit more carefully.

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