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Thursday, February 2, 2017


Many of you saw reports of this event:

“Violent protests on the University of California, Berkeley’s campus forced school officials to cancel a Wednesday night appearance by right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos.”

Like many on the left, I am made uncomfortable about blocking a speaker from appearing on a college campus, regardless of his or her views [this is entirely separate from honoring such a speaker, for example by an honorary degree or an invitation to speak at an official college function like a commencement.]  I have an alternative suggestion.  Permit the speaker to speak, but either refuse to attend, or attend and sit in stony silence while he or she speaks.

My favorite solution is to mob the site, filling every available seat, and then just sit.  No boos, no catcalls, no demands for equal time.  Just sit.  Let the person speak for as long as he or she wishes, but just sit.  Trust me, this would be unnerving.  My guess is that someone like Yiannopoulos would start out bold and brazen, making deliberately inflammatory statements to evoke some response, and then begin to falter as the minutes go by and he gets no response at all.  Try it some time.  After a while, when it turns out that he is getting the silent treatment, he will make a series of abusive statements and then crawl away.

Suppose there are a few supporters in the audience.  Fine, let them cheer and applaud, to stony silence from everyone else.  This is what is often called “shunning,” and the psychological effects can be quite forceful.

The freedom to speak does not carry with it a right to be responded to, or even listened to.


DML said...

This is a great idea. It reminds me of the response to UC Davis Chancellor Lynn Katehi after she had her students pepper sprayed. When she emerged from some sort of emergency meeting and headed to her car, all the protesters greeted her with silence. Watching it on youtube, it was indeed unnerving.

Anonymous said...

Well, I wasn't there though I live within a mile of the Berkeley campus. I'm also acquainted with some of the faculty who recommended some days ago that the talk be cancelled. And I participated in some conversations with people who (a) thought it would be wrong to block the event, but (b) thought it should be peacefully though vigorously picketed. This last, incidentally, was pretty much the position of the board of directors of the Free Speech Movement Archive (some of you may recognize some of the names):

Others, however, had other ideas. How events unfolded may be followed in more detail than one will get in the national and international media at the Berkeley Daily Planet, an on-line local news and comment site:

This same "Black Bloc" group, having committed vandalism and having injured Berkeley's reputation for peaceful yet vigorous protest, proceeded to go into downtown to trash things there too:

And this last, which I quote: "Liberals get the bullet too.,Fuck art" graffittied on the windows of UC art museum, windows broken at Starbuck's on Oxford. Looting Starbucks--pathetic.(Buzzfeed) []

These black-clothed, masked types have been a problem for quite some time. Some suggest that their actual purpose is to divide and weaken progressive actions of all sorts. I've no idea whether they're sponsored provocateurs or not. But I do think their actions lend themselves to such an interpretation I do know they are not at all representative of the overwhelming mass of people in Berkeley and at the university who are opposed to Trump and to the rabble rousers who are travelling around colleges seeking to provoke.

Ed Barreras said...

As anonymous said, it wasn't the students who were violent and destructive. It was a so-called ANTIFA (anti-fascist) group that has evidently been causing trouble in the Bay Area for years.

And personally, I think it would have been best to let this miserable troll go in and out with as little fuss as possible.

James Marks said...

I think this is a great idea, and I'm sharing it with friends, but in this case I'm told from friends on campus that the tickets were sold out in minutes. It seems the student group that invited him is large & organized enough to have ensured that. If not for the 'Black Bloc,' then, the protest would have been a successful peaceful way of voicing dissent.

Anonymous said...

When Yiannopoulos spoke at a local venue for free, my advice was to reserve a free ticket, to show up so that one's seat was not given away, and to walk out when he began. This was before Berkeley, and I do not know how many free speeches he's giving.

L.B. said...

You are so naive. I hope when you watch at least one of his shows (and one is enough maybe, for example his speech at U of New Mexico:, you'll realize that he is a standup comedian of sorts and quite adept at handling the audience; I doubt it can be filled with stone cold enemies that keep dead pan faces all the way through the spectacle.

Unknown said...

I absolutely think he should not be allowed to speak. You forfeit any rights to free speech when you're a fascist who tries to silence others.

If he is going to show up, then the only really appropriate course of action, if possible, is what Anonymous suggests: take your place and leave as soon as he opens his mouth.

As for the black block, all I can say is that when Berlusconi was in power in Italy, there was a (putative) part of the anti-globalisation movement by the same name (I know, how lame is it that they had an English name?) which has been pretty much demonstrated to have been in cahoots with the police: they would destroy property undisturbed during peaceful protests and walk off before the police charged everyone else. I'd be curious to know whether this was also used as an excuse to beat up and arrest peaceful protesters.

Average Joe Bodybuilder said...

There is such a thing as ignoring him, not worrying about it, and get on to issues of import.

Anonymous said...

The black block is a protest tactic, not the name of any organization