Two weeks ago, I wrote an opinion piece on why Ben Shapiro should not be permitted to speak at USC. One week ago, Shapiro spoke on campus. In the intervening days, the Young Americans for Freedom, who hosted Shapiro on Thursday, canceled 150 student tickets. Many of those tickets belonged to the leaders of various cultural assemblies at USC.
Yet because USC apparently does not care about discrimination against its students — or the very real fear many felt because of Shapiro’s presence on campus — the event went on as planned. Even after YAF cancelled student tickets, there was apparently no reason to withdraw the $4,100 in funding from Undergraduate Student Government. Considering the identities of the students whose tickets were canceled, it’s difficult to rationalize how the Office of Campus Activities found no evidence of bias.
On Thursday, hundreds of students who disagreed with Shapiro’s access to an official platform at USC crowded around Tommy Trojan to protest the speaker. Frightened by their own school’s lack of sensitivity, they sought safety and community in each other.
The other folks gathered near Bovard Auditorium, along with a buffer of police officers. And they weren’t afraid to capitalize on the protestors’ fear that evening.
Shapiro supporters with “Make America Great Again” hats would periodically interject to demean the rally. Some of them walked through the crowd, attempting to debate with individual protestors, hoping to stir up a reaction. When they didn’t get what they wanted, they’d walk away, writing us off as close-minded liberals who couldn’t handle some good-natured discourse.
One of them punched my friend in the back and called him a “queer.” I looked at the cops standing inside the gates and asked myself who they were really here to protect, because I knew it wasn’t the protestors.
Shapiro supporters who disrupted the rally didn’t want to talk, they wanted to intimidate. They wanted to provoke a response because they knew it would be painted the next day as an overreaction on student protestors’ part.
As the march moved past Bovard in a collective attempt to insist that our humanity be respected, the folks lined up to see Shapiro taunted protestors. People among the event attendees yelled at us. One protestor told me she was called the n-word. Some students with “Free Palestine” posters were labeled anti-Semites.
In all honesty, I’m so exhausted. I’m so exhausted of people asking why this matters and with institutions portraying students as reactionaries for not rolling over and politely yielding to injustice. I’m exhausted with people infantilizing our politics. Most of all, I’m tired of the status quo and of authorities regarding me as irrational or volatile for expressing any kind of dissatisfaction.
It’s nothing new. The path to progress always faces roadblocks from self-righteous advocates of civility. It meets resistance from the same people who tell you to trust in the institutions that let us down over and over again.
These people remind me of a passage written by Martin Luther King Jr. (one of the few radicals they seem to trust) in his letter from Birmingham Jail. He wrote that people who praise order more than justice hinder progress more than anyone else. In his words, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
I struggle to see the difference between the paternalistic attitude that moderates took toward King and the attitude they take today toward progressives. Such moderates, as King said, feel they can “set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” They ask for civility; they tell us that listening to people who disagree with us is part of learning and growing. That the solution is more speech, not less speech. This is nothing but misdirection.
Shapiro believes that transgender people are mentally ill. He’s advocated for the forced removal of Palestinians from Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Israel, saying that “decapitating” the leadership of the Palestinian Authority doesn’t go far enough because “the ideology of the Palestinian population is indistinguishable from that of its terrorist leadership.” Transgender and Palestinian students deserve a university that affirms their identity and actively decries these kinds of beliefs.
Shapiro’s talk did not show USC’s commitment to free speech and to expanding its students’ intellects with “controversial ideas.” The University effectively told us that it cares more about letting right-leaning students host their leader than it does about the safety and dignity of its marginalized students.
That’s why we needed to protest. We needed to show the targets of Shapiro’s hate that they have allies when the University fails to show up for them. I just hope that USC thinks harder about what side of history it wants to be on.