Both the Education Auditorium and the overflow lecture hall in the Classroom Building were filled to capacity last Thursday for the Dennis Prager event. Approximately 35 individuals (as per several firsthand accounts) turned out in protest against the event. Approximately 75,000 tuned in to the livestream.
Surely, “the entire campus” was not “against” those students bringing Dennis Prager to our campus.
A note of admiration, however. Those who showed up in protest were so dedicated to their beliefs, that they stood absolutely silently with smug solemnity in the chilling cold as they demonstrated their opposition.
I respect that and despite my disagreements with their inspirations, I support their right to have assembled so. Again, just for anyone who attempts to contradict my intentions: I support the protester’s right to have peaceably assembled in opposition to the Turning Point USA (TPUSA) event. Both the event and protest of the event are covered by the First Amendment.
On social media, coach of the UW Debate team Hunter McFarland (ASUW Director of Diversity), who appeared to, in part, spearhead the protest against students whom she represents, called for an apology to be directed to her since the protest was so peaceful. We must be wary of these types of assertions. No such apology should be granted to since we had no clear reason to expect a peaceful protest.
We need not apologize just because the actions of the protesters did not match the perceived intent in some of the language used by several of them leading up to the event.
Aside from professing to be a “peaceful protest,” there was very little about the rhetoric used by prominent protesters that indicated any semblance of peace. There are accounts from the now discontinued event page of protesters using language that indicated the desire to shut down the event, chant with aims to interrupt Mr. Prager and cause enough commotion to achieve a heckler’s veto. Some language did imply threats.
Once more, as I have asserted this in the past, hate speech is indeed covered by our freedom of speech. However, that need not even be brought up in the case of Mr. Prager. He does not utilize hate speech. He represents mainstream conservatism just as, say, Bernie Sanders represents mainstream neo-liberalism. It is far too frequent that the term “hate speech” is misappropriated to those who are actually mainstream, with the true intent of solely to shut down opposing views.
Approximately 600 people attended the event on Thursday. I encourage you to consider how important that is and how imperative that it is for those who opposed the event to grasp.
One charge brought up during ASUW debate regarding allocating $10,000 to the event was that the event was not going to appeal to or yield education value to a “diverse population.” Surely the size of the lines and the overflow attendance at the event demonstrates how to vote in favor of helping fund the event was to represent constituents well.
There were some protesters who claimed that TPUSA had no right to their student fee money. That claim is a thinly veiled attempt to justify their calls to resist and shut down Mr. Prager’s visit. First and foremost, TPUSA is absolutely entitled to those funds. Every RSO on campus is entitled to similar aid, with the cap being $10,000 per academic year.
I also posit that no matter what TPUSA would have done with the funds, the protesters would have found issue with it. We have political RSOs on campus. They have a right to be political and they ought to be allowed access to those same resources from ASUW as every RSO has access to.
What a lot of this boils down to is this: UW has a substantial population on campus who is conservative and who wanted to see Mr. Prager on campus. That population ought to be respected and treated equally, not threatened into a corner and restrained from enacting the beliefs they hold. The language of the protesters was clear- they do not believe that conservatives ought to have opportunities on campus. They do not believe that ASUW should consider their point of view when providing support.
I want to close with expressing the utmost appreciation for the great support that I witnessed from this campus community, and, more importantly, the university administration. It is completely refreshing to have witnessed a university administration supportive of the marketplace of ideas, the diverse ideological background of its students and freedom of speech. It is sadly an anomaly.
We certainly did witness our university and campus community take the right path in the crossroads for free speech last week, but it was absolutely not without burden.