by Sunsara Taylor
Note: This letter was distributed Friday, September 7, at the University of California, Berkeley, at an event including Chancellor Christ and Dean Chemerinsky among others.
Fascists are targeting Berkeley. This includes unvarnished hate-mongers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter as well as intellectual hitmen like David Horowitz and Ben Shapiro, and the armed white supremacists and fascist thugs who have repeatedly assembled in the streets.
Most of all, this includes—and all the others serve—the Trump/Pence regime which is moving rapidly to consolidate a fascist America. Not exaggeration or insult, this is what is happening. They have already come for the Muslims, declared war on the media and the courts, and begun shredding environmental protections. They are criminalizing protest while encouraging white supremacists and Nazis. Pence and other Christian fascists are hell-bent on criminalizing abortion and ripping up protections for LGBTQ people. Trump not only pardoned, but heralded a sheriff who defied the courts to racially profile and torture immigrants. They are threatening nuclear annihilation.
Ben Shapiro dresses his arguments in intellectual garb but serves this same basic agenda. He argues that the campuses are dominated by “leftist thugs,” but the reality is that this country as a whole, and the campuses in particular, are increasingly coming under assault by the fascists in power and the mob they’ve unleashed. Shapiro is part of this assault. He mocked Trayvon Martin on what would’ve been his 21st birthday and argues that poverty among Black people is a result of Black culture, that being transgender is a “mental illness,” that abortion is akin to the Holocaust, that “Arabs Like to Bomb Stuff and Live In Open Sewage” and more.
The targeting of Berkeley is in the service of the consolidation of fascism in America. Berkeley symbolizes the heroic struggles of the 1960s against white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialist war, and mindless obedience to “America Right or Wrong.” Reversing these verdicts and gaining a foothold at Cal would mark a major leap in the consolidation of fascism in society. On another level, Cal has become a flashpoint of the fascists’ fight to transform the campuses from places with greater initiative for critical thinking, the pursuit of the truth, and resistance to injustice into sites of fascist indoctrination. THIS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED! Campuses must become FASCIST-FREE ZONES.
All this is why RefuseFascism.org invites everyone opposed to white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, climate-change denial, and fascism to join a People’s Speak Out in opposition to Ben Shapiro’s upcoming appearance. As the flyer says: “Fascists must NOT have an audience. DON’T GO. Or if you do go, WALK OUT when Shapiro starts to speak, and come to the Speak Out.”
BUT WHAT ABOUT “FREE SPEECH”?
Because Chancellor Christ’s focus on “free speech” has confused more than a few people, let’s examine her argument briefly.
This is not to dismiss everything John Stuart Mill argued; it’s vitally important that there be a broad contestation of opposing viewpoints and that people hear views put forward by their most ardent advocates. It’s just that this important principle cannot be treated as an “absolute” and elevated above the real-world conditions in which it must be applied. Today, fascists are in power, they have a platform and are using it to silence its critics and threaten whole peoples. Allowing them a foothold on campus serves shutting down real debate and truth-seeking! There’s more to say about this, which is further reason to come to the People’s Speak Out on September 14.Christ draws from John Stuart Mill, arguing that “truth will always ultimately prevail.” This claim requires denying—or discounting—the monstrous suffering that has been inflicted before the truth has prevailed in any of a number of countless examples: slavery, the Holocaust, the burning of the Library of Alexandria, the continued existence of Creationism, the lie that Iraq had WMDs, and much more. Christ also argues that shutting down any speech makes all speech vulnerable to being shut down. But no one can seriously argue that the key in ensuring a better outcome for Jews in 1930s Germany or Black people in the early U.S. or Iraqis more recently would’ve been to better protect the speech rights of Nazis or slave-holders or George W. Bush’s lies about WMDs, respectively.
THE REAL LEGACY OF THE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT
Christ also invokes the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, describing it as a time when “students on the right and students on the left united to fight for the right to advocate political views on campus.” This is revisionist history!
The Free Speech Movement was about the right of students on campus to take up the fight against broader injustices in society, particularly the fight against segregation and racial discrimination. It was NOT about the “right” of racists and fascists to spew their bigotry on campus. Further, these students broke the rules—they climbed up on police cars, they occupied buildings, they went to jail, and through this kind of defiant and disruptive protest, they actually broke open much wider debate and engagement.
It is perverse for Christ to attempt to claim the Free Speech Movement while simultaneously defending the “right” of fascists to spew their toxic bigotry and creating a police-state shutdown of assembly, speech and protest in a huge part of campus, including the very Sproul Plaza made famous by the Free Speech movement.
FROM DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES, STAND UP AND SAY NO!
This must not be accepted! Everyone who refuses to accept a fascist America, from a great diversity of perspectives, is invited and urged to come together and speak out against this on September 14. Raise your voice against misogyny, white supremacy, xenophobia and fascism. Join in opening up real discussion and debate over what we face and what it requires of all of us.
At the same time, join in putting a stop to the imposition of fascism in America. Learn about and get organized for efforts to go into the streets in cities and towns across this country on November 4 in mass sustained protests that stay night after night and day after day, growing and not stopping until our demand is met: This Nightmare Must End: The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go!
Sunsara Taylor is an advocate of the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian, a writer for www.RevCom.us, and a co-initiator of RefuseFascism.org. Follow her at: @SunsaraTaylor