I’m A UC Berkeley Student: Here Is My Take On The Milo Yiannopoulos Incident
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Politics and Activism

I’m A UC Berkeley Student: Here Is My Take On The Milo Yiannopoulos Incident

And, here’s to hoping that President Trump doesn’t actually cut funding off from our university.

I’m A UC Berkeley Student: Here Is My Take On The Milo Yiannopoulos Incident
International Business Times

Last Wednesday, my beloved university fell into anarchy.

Windows were broken, fences were torn down, lampposts were toppled. Students -- liberals, moderates, and conservatives alike -- were beaten to a pulp. The streets and sidewalks of Sproul Plaza were burned and charred with embers and ashes. No one spoke, but we could see through each other’s fear and discomfort. One word dominated the tips of everyone’s tongues: Milo.

UC Berkeley’s campus is dynamic in many aspects. As an institution, we have discovered 16 elements on the periodic table. UC Berkeley boasts 91 Nobel laureates by affiliation, 22 life-time faculty members who have won the prize, and 29 Nobel laureates who graduated from the school with at least one degree. Everyday, I walk by signs for parking spots reserved for Nobel laureate faculty members (I see tourists take pictures next to them every morning when I walk to my 8 am lecture). But, when most people hear the name “Berkeley,” they picture a hotbed of social justice. Historical textbooks never fail to mention how UC Berkeley was the focal point of the Free Speech Movement in 1964, the Vietnam War protests in 1969, and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2014.

So, it’s no surprise that a firebrand conservative choosing to speak at one of the most liberal universities in the world would spark controversy that could drive students to violence, right? Even our own president threatened to cut all federal funding from our institution due to the chaos that unfolded on Wednesday night.

But, I’m here to clear any misconceptions you may possess about our student body and reputation. Because the president, through his misguided tweets that attack our university, is spreading a narrative that is not only incomplete, but also untrue.

As a staunch liberal who strongly supports LGBT rights, people of color, and the feminist movement, I am not a fan of Milo Yiannopoulos. He has individually targeted undocumented immigrants and members of the LGBT community in his speeches, and his Breitbart articles evoke the most repugnant beliefs of the alt-right movement. Yet, despite my overt disgust towards him and his views, I still thought that Milo had as much of a right to speak as students had to protest his message. Like it or not, the term “hate speech” remains undefined by constitutional law, which means that branding a view as hate speech still does not serve as an exception to the First Amendment. Even the American Civil Liberties Union agrees. Mr. Yiannopoulos and I do not see eye to eye on anything. The vitriol he spews out of his mouth disgusts me; he makes both liberals and conservatives cringe in discomfort. But, despite my opposition towards the bigotry he tries to spread, I still agree that Milo Yiannopoulos has the constitutional right to speak on campus... and students have the right to speak out against his views.

UC Berkeley seems to have thought the same way. The majority of students at UC Berkeley do not approve of Mr. Yiannopoulos’ offensive statements and actions; even Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor of the university, called him a “troll and provocateur” in a statement sent to all students and faculty via email a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, the university decided to uphold the constitutional right to freedom of speech and cleared the event. In fact, as fellow student Eda Yu writes in her article for the Huffington Post, “the only people who could have cancelled the event are the Berkeley College Republicans — the very student group who organized it in the first place.”

To protest Mr. Yiannopoulos and his values, the students originally decided to host a Resistance Dance Party outside of the talk’s venue. Many (including myself) saw this event as a great way to draw attention away from Yiannopoulos’ talk and towards values promoting peace, love, and celebration. However, over the next few days, a new Facebook event began to pop up on everyone’s news feeds: a massive counter-protest with the main objective to shut down Mr. Yiannopoulos’ speech. As this event garnered more attention among UC Berkeley students and unaffiliated individuals within the Bay Area, the controversy expanded further and further to the point where a scathing Op-Ed against Mr. Yiannopoulos was published in our school newspaper The Daily Californian.

An hour before Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak on campus, Sproul Plaza was engulfed in fire. 150 black-clad antifa anarchists marched onto campus, creating bonfires of trash cans right outside the venue where Milo was scheduled to speak. These protesters, unaffiliated with UC Berkeley, smashed the windows of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union, ironically on the first day of Black History Month. Protesters set off flares and fireworks, while tagging the walls of businesses on Telegraph Avenue with spray paint. The UC Berkeley administration had no choice but to cancel Yiannopoulos’ event for the safety of the speaker and the students inside and outside the venue.

These “Black Bloc” agitators are historically known for wreaking havoc on protests across Oakland and Berkeley, revamping originally peaceful messages to push a more violent agenda. In downtown Oakland, shopkeepers have begun to board up their windows the day before a protest, fearing that the event will attract such “ninja-like” anarchists. In the case of the UC Berkeley protests, these Black Bloc protesters have been reported to have virtually no connection to UC Berkeley and have framed the Cal student body as a scapegoat -- we are now forced to take the blame for the damage they have caused.

Yes, some students cheered these rioters on. Some gave their tacit approval for the violence both during and after the incident. But, most of us knew better. Most of us respect the campus we call home. Most of us could not stand to see our fellow students of all political views beaten up and our buildings vandalized and shattered into pieces.

As fellow UC Berkeley student Malini Ramaiyer wrote in her Op-Ed for the New York Times, “just because peaceful protest doesn’t get as much attention as punching someone in the face, it doesn’t mean that we should abandon the commitment to peace. Violence doesn’t encourage social progress, and it certainly doesn’t quiet those with whom we disagree.” So many people have fought social injustice for centuries. Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malala Yousafzai, and Harvey Milk have paved the way for progressive values to thrive and promote harmony and equality -- violence only undermines the hard work and effort of these individuals that we idolize and strive to emulate. Since when did peaceful protest ever equate to complacency?

The violent protests that occurred last Wednesday night do not define my values as a UC Berkeley student. I understand how damaging Milo Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric can be. I fully support the fight towards a more equal, progressive, and peaceful society. We must protest. We must speak out. We must check the egregious actions of our current administration. But, if we continue to shout so loud that no one can hear or understand what we are saying, we will never win. We must rise above the debris and follow Michelle Obama’s mantra: when they go low, we go high.

Now, let’s get to work.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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