Black Lives Matter Students Attack Key Ally in Virginia
About a dozen Black Lives Matter protesters shut down a free speech event where a high-ranking ACLU member was due to speak, a demonstration of how social movement organizations oftentimes fail to consider the long-term implications of shouting down a powerful ally.
On the evening of September 27, 2017, the College of William and Mary hosted “Students and the First Amendment,” a free speech forum where Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, was scheduled to speak.
About a minute into Gastañaga’s monologue, more than twelve members of Black Lives Matter — College of William and Mary (BLM-CWM) stormed the university’s Commonwealth Auditorium loudly chanting “A-C-L-U! You protect Hitler, too!” and “Liberalism is white supremacy!”
They also carried signs that read, “Blood on your hands!” and “No platform for fascists!”
About 20 minutes into the protest, a ranking organizer of the college event gave BLM-CWM an opportunity to better voice their message with a microphone, according to Flat Hat News.
A Black Lives Matter spokesperson then scorned the ACLU’s view that free speech is a right for everyone.
About ten more minutes passed until event organizers decided to shut down what was supposed to be a discussion about free speech and civil rights.
Yet, the activists continued shouting as BLM-CWM surrounded students who wanted to ask Gastañaga questions, despite the forum’s cancellation.
In a written statement, College President Taylor Reveley said of the disruption,
“Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community. This stifles debate and prevents those… from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency.”
The storming of a pro-free speech event by Black Lives Matter protesters is terribly ironic and reveals the organizational immaturity of BLM-CWM.
First, the ACLU has an intimate history with the Black Lives Matter movement: The nonprofit has “represented or publicly supported Black Lives Matter activists” on numerous occasions, according to the ACLU’s website.
Simply put, the Black Lives Matter movement benefits from the ACLU’s stance and has no legitimate and much less logical reason to attack a key ally in the fight for Black American rights.
Second, the preservation of free speech is crucial for the survival of social movements on both sides of the political spectrum. Yes, this means that hate groups also have the right to express their views like they did during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville earlier this year.
But this also gives Black liberation organizations like BLM-CWM the opportunity to engage in peaceful yet assertive dialogues with their ideological opposition, which could help activist groups refine and better relay their views in order to reach more people.
Third, BLM-CWM’s protest harms its relationship with university officials, opening the door to awkward interactions between the two groups, especially when the former applies for protest permits or poster space.
For an organization that demands tolerance and equality for Black lives, it is quite intolerant to shout down an entity that has fought and will continue to fight for everyone’s right to speak and protest without being harassed by the authorities.
Going forward, BLM-CWM must look consider the potential long-term consequences of harassing allies before they carry out such activities.
And although it is unknown whether BLM-CWM is an official Black Lives Matter chapter, the nationwide network should contact the college group and attempt to soften their approach against public speakers.
Failure to do this may result in more misguided outbursts from the university activists and further tarnish the social movement’s public image.