Why I’m disappointed in our protest of Milo Yiannopoulos

Colorado Springs is known for being conservative. We’re the home of Focus On The Family, the Family Research Institute, Air Force Academy and a strong Republican voting bloc. Knowing what kind of city this is is part of what makes it so exciting and encouraging to see anyone show up to protest Milo Yiannopoulos. But we might have to do more than just show up.

Before I get into any criticisms or issues that I had with the protest of Milo Yiannopoulos held in my city let me make it clear that I have absolutely zero respect or love for this asshole. (If you already know what kind of clown he is or if you’re worried that reading or hearing some of the things he’s said will trigger feelings of rage or hopelessness, feel free to skip ahead! We’ll meet up at sub header: showing up)

Yiannopoulos is, if I’m being generous, a fear monger, a shit stirrer and a both online and IRL troll.

More accurately, he is a recklessly dangerous racist, misogynistic, transphobic shell of a human. He has, with his expensive tastes in clothes, “sassy” attitude, and constant reminders of his sexual proclivities, weaponized his homosexuality into an extreme caricature of how conservatives perceive gays. This has, like the often bolstered but rarely sighted black friend that people cite before saying something racist, given conservatives what they feel is the right to publicly say hateful, fucked up things about gay and trans people.

Aside from being a “See, we’re not homophobic as long as faggots know how to act and stay in their place” merit badge for conservatives, Yiannopoulos has irresponsibly put trans women in danger, made and encouraged disgustingly racist public attacks on one of the funniest women in modern media, actively participates in fat shaming and has repeatedly taken opportunities to spout misogynistic, demeaning things about women. (Warning: some of these links go directly to Yiannopoulos’ youtube channel and breitbart news. Please proceed with care.)

I could write all day about how dangerous and irresponsible Yiannopoulos is and dragging him would feel fantastic. I could work the rest of my life to make sure everyone knows that he is a boil on our collective asses but I’ve got other things to think about and if you’re not already convinced by clicking just one of the links above you probably won’t ever be.

Bye! Thanks for stopping in! If you’re interested I’ve written some other things that are mostly about my mental illness, my disdain for people wearing sweatpants in public and casual racists. Check it out maybe?

Showing Up

I feel that, just with the examples listed above, it would be pretty obvious why someone would be compelled to show up at one of Yiannopoulos’ college speaking tour stops and speak up against him. It should be clear why I and others want to be present to try and stem the harm that speeches like his can do to a community.

I want people of color in my city to feel safe. I want transgender students and youth to feel comfortable and confident in being who they are. I want little girls to follow whatever dreams they want into any profession they want to chase. I want other young gay men and women to know that they don’t have to play out some brassy, or flannel-clad, comical, stereotype just be to be accepted. I love the people in my city. We should all have a chance to be happy and enjoy life however we see fit and when people listen to a speaker like Yiannopoulos and aren’t offered another opinion or perspective it can be more difficult to do that.

So, when Yiannopoulos showed up, so did we.

I was proud and excited to see so many (~40–50) people show up. Colorado Springs is better known for being the home of Focus on the Family than it is for it’s active progressive community. So, seeing people show up, seeing people from this city care enough about treating other humans with basic dignity and respect to endure cold and snow, is impressive and felt really good.

But Of Course…

As much as I loved the chunk of the community I saw speaking out I think it’s important to criticize things I like or that I take part in because there’s almost always room for improvement. I love the fact that, even in a conservative city, people came out but I have some issues with our protests.

Protests need to be organized.

Two separate groups, the local Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) and the local Anti-Fascists (AF), planned to protest. This sounds great because having two groups makes it sound like we could have twice the people but the reality seemed to be that there were two groups with uncoordinated plans or goals.

Even when everyone involved knows where to meet, when to be there, what actions are planned, and what goals or purpose are being promoted, keeping a protest together can be difficult. Obviously it’s not impossible to get separate and different groups of people to collectively work together towards a goal or to an end but it works best when that group as a whole knows explicitly what they’re doing and why.

As outlined in their respective facebook event posts for the evenings protests SURJ and AF have different goals.

This will be a PEACEFUL demonstration. This is an event for community members and UCCS students in Colorado Springs to voice their resistance under the first amendment right to free speech. We do not align with any of Yiannopoulos’ tactics and we intend to voicie our resistance to his racist, homophobic, transphobic and misogynist hate speech. We will do so in a PEACEFUL manner.
Two UCCS student groups — chapters of the College Republicans and Turning Point USA — invited Yiannopoulos to speak but because the university is public, UCCS cannot turn him away; however, we can publicly affirm our commitment to creating a safe campus and city through showing up with our voices and our propaganda of support for lgbtqia community and students of color. (Found here)
A group of Colorado Spings (sic) residents committed to fighting back and stomping out all forms of oppression. (Found here)

(Anti-Fascists share online as little about themselves and their events as possible in an attempt to stay anonymous and difficult to attack. Their posting for this protest has been deleted which is why I can’t post anything about their goals specific to the Yiannopoulos protest.)

SURJ works, albeit imperfectly, to promote inclusivity, support, compassion, justice for minority groups and generally is a group that I feel more likely to support.

AF groups are simply anti fascist and sometimes violently so. (Again, AF activists are hesitant to share information online and have no central governing body. As a result they don’t have a site that I can link to that defines or demonstrates who or what they qualify as fascist or fascism.) We all have a pretty good idea of what fascism is though and I think it’s safe to say that basically everyone is anti-fascist. There are of course neo-nazis and the ilk who are probably down to party but for the sake of argument I would bet that even ultra-conservative, racist, homophobic, misogynists balk at the word ‘fascist.’ No one really pines for the days of living under an Authoritarian regime.

Both groups provided instruction that the event was to be peaceful, roughly when and where to meet but that was about it. We didn’t have plans beyond showing up, or if we did no one clued me in. Several of the other protesters I met early on were as lost and confused as me and my friends were. There was no leadership or direction and people more or less were just… there.

I can assume that this is more or less how the AF activists tend to operate. They eschew hierarchy and central leadership but they also only have one, singular goal: smash fascism. Having one very simple task makes it much more simple to participate. As long as someone identifies as anti-fascist and espouses the basic principles of the “organization” at large then any action they take, no matter how productive or disruptive it is, can be deemed as anti-fascist.

It’s an easy model to replicate and can be done anywhere by any number of people.

AF protesting at the Yiannopoulos event showed up with the goal to stop Yiannopoulos from speaking, stop people from attending, and as those goals weren’t attainable made the event less enjoyable and more disrupted. They protested the speech and achieved their goal.

However, I feel that there are a few ways that this goal failed on a larger scale.

Why We Fail Ourselves

People speaking out against hate speech is awesome. It shows unity and compassion and can embolden others to follow suit. Those of us with the ability to call it out and stop it without fear of punitive action or physical harm (*cough* white dudes) have a responsibility to do so publicly. This works well in one on one interactions but less so on a larger scale.

We need to protest ideas and not the speech itself.

Reprehensible and dangerous as he might be, Yiannopoulos can say whatever he wants and anyone who wants to listen to him should be able to do so. Obviously, as Yiannopoulos and his supporters are quick to remind critics of, this is protected by the First Amendment. As much as I would like it if people would stop paying attention to him, recognize him for the con-man that he is, and for him to die penniless and alone, he still has the constitutional right to say whatever he likes.

Even aside from his constitutional rights however, which unfortunately are not granted as freely to all foreign nationals and immigrants as they are to him, I also feel that as part of a healthy, free exchange of ideas we periodically need bad ideas. We as a society need to hear dangerous ideas because they can act as a gauge for what, while unpopular, may be concerning for subsets of the population. Hearing bad and dangerous ideas also gives us, at large, something against which to compare positive solutions. We have to be given options and choices if we’re expected to make informed decisions.

No matter how dangerous and irresponsible the things Yiannopoulos says are and no matter how much it discourages me to know that people believe and support him, I can listen for the underlying fears that stoke these extreme beliefs and offer more humane and positive solutions for them. I can talk to someone about their irrational fear of immigrants, Muslims, people of color, the cultural acceptance of LGBTQIA people, and the ongoing, persistent cultural shifts happening in the world but I, we, can’t have these discussions or offer positive solutions if I don’t know where the fear is coming from.

(Just to be clear, I am in NO WAY interested in having polite discussions or arguing with anyone about their dangerous racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic and otherwise bullshit solutions to their concerns. There is no debate to be had and no acceptable amount of reasoning that will ever rationalize hating people based on something as arbitrary as skin color, gender, sexuality or religion. If you think we as a society would be even a little better off without certain groups or if you think that for safety’s sake certain groups should have fewer liberties, you can go fuck yourself. There’s no discussion to be had.)

We have the same rights and protections to free speech that he does and we have to better use them.

It’s fantastic that we had people come out in opposition to Yiannopoulos’ event here and that people are going to protest his events at most universities but when given the chance to we need to do more than protest his hate speech.

While a guy like Yiannopoulos is taking the chance to speak to alarmingly large crowds of people about why their fear of a changing and more inclusive world is absolutely justified and is reassuring them that they are smart, beautiful and brave for believing the same hateful things that he believes we’re standing in the snow shouting arguments at strangers about why he shouldn’t say mean things about people. The people who come down to see him speak know that he says mean things. They know that he says hurtful, dangerous and hateful things and they like that, that’s why they’re there. To make himself and his supporters feel vindicated in their behavior all he has to do is claim that we’re attacking his First Amendment rights and dismiss us as P.C. police.

The end result is that both sides of the argument yell at each other, we call them fascists for saying things that are historically rooted in race, religious and gender supremacy, they call us fascists for trying to limit their free speech, maybe there’s a brief fight, the police arrest someone (probably one of us) and as long as no one gets shot we all walk away telling whatever narrative we want that makes us feel like we accomplished something.

But on the side of the protesters nothing has been accomplished.

We haven’t made anyone feel safer.

We haven’t made anyone feel welcome.

We haven’t offered any alternative solutions.

We haven’t changed anyone’s mind and aside from telling Yiannopoulos’ supporters that we think they’re all fascists we haven’t even provided any useful information. We have, by using the tactics of disruption, failed.

We Have To Offer An Alternative.

If we want to change anything then we have to stop focusing on simply being disruptive and instead focus on supporting women, people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, members of the LGBTQIA, and making sure that they feel safe and welcome in our cities and in our universities.

We need to plan. We need to organize.

For every hateful and dangerous thing that Yiannopoulos or some other hate monger says we need to have a peaceful and positive counter argument. We need to have reasonable, logical, and compassionate alternative solutions to the fear they spread.

When he offers a logical fallacy as proof that liberties are being dismantled via P.C. culture we need to provide as safe a space as possible for those hurt most by intentional misgendering, by hateful, sweeping labels and stereotypes. We need to offer a caring, loving and welcoming presence. Strangers who, like us, want to speak out against racism, transphobia or misogyny should be made to feel like they are encouraged to participate. We should work to rally behind and support people who might be timid about publicly taking a stand and joining us.

We should encourage people of color, women, members of the LGBTQIA community and other minorities to lead and help organize our events and actions. They’re the ones who risk to lose the most and I guarantee they have some great ideas on how to be more inclusive and effective.

We need to have peaceful protests instead of non-violent ones. Avoiding the use of physical violence isn’t enough, we should also offer a respite from the emotional and psychological violence that comes with hate speech. We can’t expect any newcomers to be encouraged to join us if, whether we mean to be or not, we’re so intimidating. We should proudly and happily show our faces because we should be proud of standing up for the rights of others. We need to be willing to talk with strangers, passersby, media and news organizations if not to make sure that our ideas, beliefs and goals are clearly understood then at least so that people can see that we’re normal people who just happen to give a fuck.

Making the efforts to be more inclusive, supportive, compassionate and constructive also means that we have to be smart, clever, and educated on the issues we promote. Or at the very least that we have to be willing to support leadership and organizers for our events who have the experience and knowledge (*cough* women of color) to keep actions and protests together.

We can’t do any of these things by protesting the speech itself but we can if we protest the insidious, poisoned ideas. We can make a change if we focus instead on community support, on educating people about the dangers of hate speech.

Overall our protest was encouraging. Despite being an overwhelmingly white, conservative city we had a presence of people from the community that were willing to do the necessary work to stop hate speech. But just showing up, just being disruptive isn’t enough. We have to aim higher.