The title of this post sounds ironic, doesn’t it? But not if you share Black Lives Matter’s (BLM’s) view—and that of other Regressive Leftists—that offensive speech isn’t protected free speech and that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a hate group because it defends the civil liberties of white supremacists, Nazis, and other bigots. This incident bothers me more than usual, because it happened at my alma mater (I went to William and Mary, graduating in 1971), and because just seems to crazy to shut down a talk on free speech.
The Flat Hat, the College’s student newspaper, reports that Clair Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, was scheduled to talk at the College on September 27 on the topic “Students and the First Amendment.” Her talk was co-sponsored by Alma Mater Productions (AMP) and the ACLU. But Gastañaga never got to give her talk, as BLM members (actually, most of the students seem to be white), stood up with signs (most hiding their faces), and then began to disrupt the talk. BLM’s ill-considered beef against the ACLU is, I think, twofold: the ACLU defended the alt-righters’ right to assemble in Charlottesville, and the ACLU defends free speech, which BLM sees as a privileged “right” that isn’t extended to people of color. From the Flat Hat (my emphasis):
The ACLU discussion never occurred because protesters took over the stage within five minutes of Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia Claire Guthrie Gastañaga’s entrance. Signs in hand, the protesters shouted chants such as “liberalism is white supremacy” and “the revolution will not uphold the constitution.”
Twenty minutes into the protest, AMP Director of Internal Affairs Hasini Bandara ’18 approached the group with a microphone and gave members an opportunity to read their prepared statement.
In the statement, BLM criticized the ACLU’s approach to white supremacy in regard to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, suggesting that the organization provides an unnecessary platform for white supremacists.
“When is the free speech of the oppressed protected?” a BLM group representative asked. “We know from personal experience that rights granted to wealthy, white, cis, male, straight bodies do not trickle down to marginalized groups. We face greater barriers and consequences for speaking.”
So here we have a truly gonzo claim: that liberalism is white supremacy (is any political ideology not white supremacy?), and that, comes the Revolution, we won’t need (or have) the Constitution. Further, I don’t see the oppressed being denied their freedom of speech. After all, BLM is out and loud, and, however “marginalized” they are, their speech is protected, and I don’t see that they encounter “barriers and consequences for speaking.”
This is not a good look for BLM, which started as a justifiable protest against the racist actions of some police officers. Now, without a unified message or central leadership, BLM is devolving into a bunch of authoritarian Control-Leftists who do things manifestly nonproductive to their message—at least the original one. They may be venting their feelings, but they’re not helping people of color.
The Flat Hat reports what happened: not only was the talk canceled, but when students tried to speak with Gastañaga, BLM disrupted that, too:
After reading the statement aloud, the group’s representative took her place back in line, and the protesters continued to chant.
One student who attended the event, Laith Hashem ’19, was bothered by protesters’ refusal to engage in an open, two-sided discussion.
. . . Thirty minutes into the protest, the discussion was cancelled.
“It was a collective decision from people in the AMP leadership team and our advisers,” AMP director Miguel Dayan ’19 said. “It was clear that we [were] unable to continue with the event, and it was appropriate to cancel.”
After the cancellation was announced, remaining students clustered around Gastañaga, hoping to ask questions and voice concerns. These students dispersed, however, when the protesters began circling around them, drowning out Gastañaga and chanting with increased volume.
That’s just fricking rude: even worse than interrupting a talk. They don’t even want private discourse! Here’s a video someone put up showing the melee. If you want, ignore the introductory commentary and listen from 2:33-10:46:
The last snippets of the report I want to post are these:
Although the protesters identified themselves as merely “concerned students,” the College’s BLM chapter took credit on its Facebook page through a livestream of the event, as well as a written post stating, “Tonight, we shut down an event at William & Mary where Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, was speaking. In contrast to the ACLU, we want to reaffirm our position of zero tolerance for white supremacy no matter what form it decides to masquerade in.”
Seriously, the ACLU is “white supremacy”? It’s a sad day in Williamsburg when I have to hear this kind of lunacy.
William & Mary has a powerful commitment to the free play of ideas. We have a campus where respectful dialogue, especially in disagreement, is encouraged so that we can listen and learn from views that differ from our own, so that we can freely express our own views, and so that debate can occur. Unfortunately, that type of exchange was unable to take place Wednesday night when an event to discuss a very important matter — the meaning of the First Amendment — could not be held as planned.
The event, co-sponsored by William & Mary’s student-run programming organization Alma Mater Productions (AMP) and the ACLU, was entitled “Students and the First Amendment.” The anticipated conversation never occurred when protesters refused to allow Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, to be heard. The protesters then drowned out students who gathered around Ms. Gastañaga, seeking to ask her questions, hear her responses and voice their own concerns.
Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community. This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency. William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue.
To me, this is (pardon my French) a lame-ass statement in one respect: what is the College going to do about this? Will they formulate a policy, as we have at the University of Chicago, to stop disruption of speakers? Will they punish those students who interrupted the talk? Nothing is said. So I’ve written Taylor Reveley about this, and if you’re a W&M alum (or anybody else interested in free speech), you can write him at email@example.com (given on his web page).
Black Lives Matter is increasingly becoming a group that doesn’t know how to accomplish its aims. It knows how to disrupt, it knows how to use Control-Left speech tropes, but it’s not going to stop the ACLU from defending everybody’s freedom of speech, no matter how offensive some people consider that speech.