“A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On Wednesday night, protests erupted at UC Berkeley in response to an event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos, a senior editor for Breitbart News, who was scheduled to speak to the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR). Yiannopoulos was invited to share his thoughts on – as he put it – “cultural appropriation, a phenomenon of the progressive, social justice left.” Rioters dressed in all black, unaffiliated with UC Berkeley and calling themselves “antifas” (short for anti-fascists), vandalized campus and city property, including the MLK student center, a nearby Starbucks, and other local shops.
Yiannopoulos’ history of hate speech is well documented. Last year, he was banned from Twitter for harassing actress Leslie Jones following her performance in the Ghostbusters reboot, and he has openly mocked Black Lives Matter and feminism, among other things. He responded last night by lamenting the betrayal of free speech at the home of the Free Speech Movement itself.
Someone cue the music and…
Milo Yiannopoulos revels in the company of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Islamophobes. That he would be invited to the premiere public university in the world is an insult to the entire institution of higher education. As a spokesperson for Breitbart, Yiannopoulos has given voice to racists, bigots, and violent extremists. As a proud Cal alum, I am incensed that he was allowed to even step foot on campus.
BCR had a hand in all of this too. They have a long history of silencing – or at least attempting to silence – students, particularly students of color at Cal. In 2011, they hosted an “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” which openly mocked the value of diversity at college campuses. In response, a large, multicultural student coalition organized a swift, nonviolent response. Several hundred students of color and allies staged a peaceful protest that drew national attention to the lack of diversity at Cal and other colleges and universities, highlighting need for race-conscious admission policies.
Some have come to Yiannopoulos’ defense, alleging that his right to “free speech” was violated. Let me say this on record: Violence is never the answer. Assault and destruction of property are serious offenses that are never justified; but let’s not fool ourselves by suggesting Yiannopoulos was being an agent of free speech. He’s entitled to his opinion, but so are those who feel violated and marginalized by his bigotry. Last night, although some did it the wrong way, Berkeley rejected the alt-right, white supremacist, misogynistic, xenophobic hate that signifies Yiannopoulos’ branding.
And make no mistake, this protest was about more than Milo Yiannopoulos. It was a rejection of a new administration that enacts racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and (insert form of oppression here) with each passing day. To echo Dr. King, this protest was an act of defiance to a president who has built his life and career on silencing the underserved.
I firmly support the courageous UC Berkeley students who stood up for their rights and dignity peacefully; and I refuse to blame them, or even the anarchist antifas, no matter how destructive they may be. The blame lies with Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos, Steve Bannon, and the rest who seek to suffocate communities of color, women, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, Muslims, and so many more with each passing executive order.
In reflecting on Dr. King’s words, we must do our part to uplift the voices of the unheard, and in doing so, find the answers to violence and hate. Berkeley sent a message to the nation that we will not stand by and let racists and bigots reign freely.
We’re ready to fight back, and we’re ready to win.