UC Davis Protest and Why Protesting Hate Speech Matters

By Amber Enderton | January 16, 2016 |  It was a chilly night on Friday, January 13th. We had all gathered with one common goal, to...

By Amber Enderton | January 16, 2016 | 

It was a chilly night on Friday, January 13th. We had all gathered with one common goal, to protest the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Davis, who was invited by the Davis College Republicans. It was a unified coalition of solidarity; progressives, socialists, communists, anarchists, and unionists were all there in the crowd. While holding our various signs and banners high, we chanted out together that racism, sexism, and transphobia would not be tolerated. We shouted our support for the rights of black people, latinx people, transgender people, refugees, immigrants and Muslims. A single message of acceptance, expressed by dozens and dozens of protesters.

Contrary to early reports, it was a relatively peaceful affair. Initially the police had set up barricades to separate the protesters from the counter-protesters, but once the barriers were torn down, very few incidents occurred as both protesters and counter-protesters mingled shoulder to shoulder. Their chants of ‘Let Milo Speak’ and ‘USA USA’ were met with our chants of ‘Racism, sexism go away’. Only once did fisticuffs break out between a protester and a counter-protester. The only arrest came when a group of protesters, who had received tickets that were being passed around, got into the event. The police quickly, and forcefully, tossed them out; while one was arrested. That brief encounter with police was the most violent moment of the night, as several protesters left that incident with bruises from being shoved by police. Vandalism came in the form of chalk, with anti-fascist and trans-positive messages etched onto the ground across the quad; with cops confiscating chalk as they saw it. Paramedics were only called out once, when a protester collapsed inside the nearby parking structure, but they were able to get home without incident. Ultimately, the protest ended in success, with the event being cancelled. Hate speech would not be welcome on campus that day.

Much has been made of the protest since, with supporters praising the successful quashing of hate speech, whereas detractors argue the protest was a suppression of free speech. I am certainly biased; a friend of mine was targeted by Milo after one of her accounts were hacked, resulting in her being outed in her community and topless photos from her teenage years before she had transitioned printed on the pages of Breitbart. As a trans woman myself, I certainly appreciate the fear of being blasted on Breitbart by one of Milo’s hit pieces, though perhaps not as much as the other trans women at the event, who all wore face masks to avoid being outed and subjected to public ridicule. But this is precisely why this protest is so important.

It is important to clarify the difference between hate speech and free speech. One of the founding concepts of this nation, codified in the bill of rights, is the right to free speech. An open dialogue that encourages differing views to be expressed safely and without the burdens of government cracking down on them. Hate speech seeks to exploit that, not by encouraging discussion but by silencing marginalized communities.

Milo doesn’t just share his views, he encourages attacks on vulnerable people. Comedian Leslie Jones got a taste of it last year after Milo began targeting her; she had to leave Twitter due to harassment, and her instagram and other accounts were hacked, leading to the release of nudes that were never meant for public consumption. When Milo went to Milwaukee last month, he targeted a trans student there, ridiculing their appearance and stipulating that they are a sexual predator because they use the women’s bathroom. The humiliation and personal attacks of having their identity scrutinized led to them leaving the university.

Milo practices hate speech, and it is intended to suppress the speech of the marginalized. Using stereotypes and hatred already existing in our society, he directs that at specific individuals; the fear and intimidation by the ensuing mobs silencing them and disrupting their lives. To be targeted by Milo is not an open and frank discussion, but to have your whole life turned into a nightmare. Our lives, our existences, are not open to debate. We can discuss issues without trying to isolate and demagogue whole communities. Anything less is hate speech.

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