An article published this past week titled “Where Violence and Liberation Come Together” puts forth an incredible false equivalency between World War II and a far-right conservative speaking at a neoliberal university. The writer of the article completely disregards the fact that World War II was a war fought among hundreds of thousands of people and multiple states, and that the turned violent protests at Berkeley were orchestrated by about 150 masked Antifa members. The scale and context of these two events seem to not matter to the writer at all.
Without fully considering complex historical realities behind the structure of a modern first world democracy (the United States), the writer calls for violence as the appropriate way to protest. If non-violent protesters at North Dakota last year, and at Occupy Wall Street in 2011, were subjected to paramilitary assault, what makes him think that violent protesters will not be?
The writer’s views are dangerous because they completely lack a contextual understanding of the current state of affairs within the United States. The last time peaceful protests were effective at a large national level, President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to sign the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) granting, on paper, all Americans the equal rights made clear to them by the U.S. Constitution.
But times have changed, and mass peaceful protesting does not always accomplish the results those who protest demand. The state’s powers have grown incredibly strong, and there has been an increase in militarization of the police force across the United States. Peaceful protesters being assaulted by the police sparks anger and frustration against the police and those who command them, but when protesters turn violent, they leave an open space for the justification of violence used against them by the state.
The writers makes several paradoxical statements. For instance, when talking about “free speech” he seems to contradict himself: “If we are truly to progress as a society, free speech and difference of opinion must be tolerated. What should not be tolerated now, however, are views that are explicitly harmful and contemptuous of large swaths of humanity—and the people who blatantly proclaim these views.”
He calls for the tolerance of opinions, and immediately after calls for the intolerance of opinions.
On principle, people should be allowed to voice their opinions as long as they don’t personally incite or call for violence against others. If someone gets shut down for their opinion, this sets a vile precedent that opens the door for anyone to start censoring anything they do not like (I don’t want to live in this world because I enjoy my Marxist texts and 20th century literature).
I understand where the writer is coming from, and I see the immense irony behind the idea of “free speech” tolerance, when historically, everyone who wasn’t white or male didn’t get that right. Yet I truly see his views as detrimental to the struggle ahead, and instead invite him to rethink his strategies and views for the sake of others. His calls for “destruction” and “violence” seem explosive and fascinating on paper, yet taken into context, they truly lack depth and understanding of the modern world around us.