No apologies for fighting hate

June 1, 2016

When students at Chicago's DePaul University heard that right-wing blogger Milo Yiannopoulos would be coming to campus May 24, they organized a protest that ran him off campus. Afterward, Edward Ward, one of the students who spoke out that day, became the target of a racist smear campaign and even received death threats. On May 27, a noose was found on campus. Here, brian bean interviews Ward about why he protested and the racist threats that followed.

THE DEPAUL Campus Republican group decided to bring right-wing journalist Milo Yiannopoulos for an event on your campus. What was your motivation for protesting and interrupting the event?

PEOPLE SUGGEST that we should have intellectual discussions and conversations with people like this. But the truth is you can't have intellectual conversations with an idiot.

When you purposely tweet pictures of female DePaul students with ignorant comments and devalue the notion of feminism--and as a result, the women receive threats of sexual violence--you are dehumanizing their existence.

I decided to protest him because he is bullying DePaul students. You come to my house, you insult my brothers, you insult my sisters, you insult my siblings, and you expect me to convince you that what you are saying about my brothers, sisters and siblings isn't true?

I'm not going to try to convince you that it's not true. I'm going to get you out of my house.

There's no need to have a discussion because you're simply talking to people who have already made up their minds about what they're going to think. They brought you here not for intellectual discussion but to hear you further bash what they call liberals, to hear you bash feminists, to hear you further bash gay people.

DePaul University students disrupt a right-wing speaker
DePaul University students disrupt a right-wing speaker

So we had the right to protest. Conservatives talk about free speech only when it benefits them. But I say this to them: So long as there is hate speech in our house, where you are inciting bullying and violence, guess what? I will shut you down.

They made a mockery of me using a whistle during the protest, but I used the whistle intentionally, and I would do it again. I am starting a hashtag: #blowthewhistle. We're blowing the whistle on racism. We're blowing the whistle on sexism. We're blowing the whistle on homophobia. We're blowing the whistle on xenophobia. We're blowing the whistle on ableism. We're blowing the whistle on certain aspects of capitalism. So in this way, the whistle was very strategic.

SOME DON'T agree with the method of confronting right-wingers like Yiannopoulos. They argue that protests like the one at DePaul give the right the attention they crave, and that the best approach is to ignore them. Others say "dialogue" is the solution to what is described in terms of "different points of view." The protest at DePaul displayed a different approach--one that that successfully ran Yiannopoulos off campus. Can you speak to that?

YOU CANNOT go to a lion and meow like a pussy cat. You have to approach power with power. Many people during the Holocaust tried to just ignore Hitler, and said there was nothing but a language of violence and vitriol. The language that Milo spews is vitriolic. If we sit here and ignore it, then most of them will say, this must be true.

But then when we stand up and say something, we're told that we're only reinforcing what he's saying. So we can't win. I say that if I'm going to lose in your eyes, then I'm going to go down with a fight. I've received so many death threats and hate mail, and I will take the hate mail and the threats--I will take whatever you have to offer me because at the end of the day, I will stand. I will continue to fight, and we will win.

When we fight, often our opponents invoke Dr. King against us. But, as Dr. King said, quoting Victor Hugo, "If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness."

Yiannopoulos is the kind of person who causes darkness and then blames people who react to this darkness. So I will never apologize and I will continue to fight, and if he were to come back to the university with the same hateful speech, he will be shut down again.

WHAT WAS it like inside the event? How did Yiannopoulos and his supporters respond to you and the other protesters?

INSIDE THE event, there was one Black woman who got on stage and spoke in their favor. But when she began speaking, people in the crowd starting yelling, "Get this n****r off stage." So they looked at the color of her skin and assumed that she was with us, but she was actually supporting them.

That tells you the amount of idiocy in these people. For me, it's bigger than race--this is systemic oppression, and we have to understand that. In the event, one guy looked at us and said, "Ferguson is calling." It was a slap in the face to have their supporters say things like this to intimidate Black people.

They began chanting "CPD, CPD, CPD" [the initials of the Chicago Police Department] while the Black folks were on the stage to further encourage the unjust killings of Black people. This is where race became a part of it, when they began to chant that and make racial slurs and spew all this hatred. Other people were making remarks like "Get a job." Well, I have a job, and I have had a job for a while now.

At first when I was dealing with all this hatred from these people, I felt bad, and my body felt physical pain at the amount of racism and hate mail I was receiving. But then in a blink of an eye, I was reminded that these people were cowards, and they are using intimidation tactics.

If my name has to be dragged through the mud, if I have to endure your threats and your racism, if I have endure the constant threats to lynch me, calling me a n****r, calling me a monkey, calling me all these racial slurs, if I have to endure that because I decided to stand up for my people--and when I say my people I mean all those who are oppressed--then so be it. But I will not apologize for it.

We are unapologetic and unafraid, and they will know that when we are done. Those on his team say that we used violence, but in fact, we were the only ones who faced violence. Women protesters were attacked, threatened, followed and harassed. We were also called "thugs."

What is the definition of a thug? Because our behavior was thuggery, then I challenge Yiannopoulos to call out his thugs--those who threatened our people, those who actually physically attacked our people. He won't, because you only attach "thuggery" with Black people--"thug" is the new n****r. You never see it linked with white people.

SINCE THE protest, you have been the primary target for an onslaught of racist attacks--which the campus Republicans haven't condemned. This appeared to escalate with the appearance of a noose on campus on May 27. What does this say about Yiannopoulos' and the right wing's message and the history of racist terrorism?

A LOT of my peers, Black, white and persons of color, have expressed fear, and the tension on campus is so thick you can cut it with a knife. But I wasn't surprised when the noose appeared. Because racism was never gone. It was covered up with politics, but it was never gone.

We talk about the notion of free speech. "We're allowing him to come because he has freedom of speech, and we want to encourage a different forms of thought." But I equate what Yiannopoulos is doing with what happened in Charleston, South Carolina. These types of massacres happen when you continue to produce this type of hatred.

When Dylann Roof massacred those nine people in that church, he made statements like, "They're raping our women." This person was indoctrinated, and what's happening now is that people like Yiannopoulos are indoctrinating right-wing conservatives, and in a matter of time, we're going to get something similar. You will get this with the language and the hatred that he is spewing. When you spew this type of hatred, the blood is on someone else's hands.

UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT Dennis Holtschneider released a statement the day after the protest. In it, he attempts to distance himself from the political viewpoints of Yiannopoulos, but also condemns the protests and condemns you. He then closes with an apology to the Campus Republicans for their event being disrupted. Can you comment on the administration's response?

DR. KING said, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis maintain their neutrality." Did Holtschneider's statement choose a side or did he make a desperate attempt to remain neutral?

They want to find compromise between love and hate. We will not be that line; we will shut hate down. And we will be unapologetic about it. This will involve all our communities coming together because it's bigger than race. This was DePaul students saying, "You know what, not in my house."

THERE SEEMS to be a changing dynamic around how to fight racism that can be seen with these recent protests. This appears to be connected to the ideological space opened up by the Black Lives Matter movement and a certain revitalization of the power of protest to fight racism. Can you talk about how you see this connection at DePaul?

I THINK the Black Lives Matter Movement is becoming effective because it is causing the world to look at racial injustice. Right-wing conservatives are afraid that this movement is becoming successful, so they have to instill fear and put labels of "fascism" on protesters and cry about so-called free speech.

But what happened at DePaul wasn't purely a Black Lives Matter protest. We do support Black Lives Matter, and I am a Black Lives Matter protester. However, on this campus, I was a part of the DePaul community and was saying, "You will not threaten our people. You will not threaten our family. Here, we are a family. When you ignite hate, we put the flame out."

The same spirit over Black Lives Matter is the same spirit over what happened at DePaul. And this was the same spirit over the civil rights movement--saying we will no longer deal with oppression. You kill our families, you destroy our history, for the Indigenous people you take their land, you disconnect us from our people, you strip us of everything we have, and then you tell us how to cry? Unacceptable.

When I was inside the event, they began chanting, "All lives matter, all lives matter." Now, we don't disagree with that. That is why we were on that stage--because we believe that all lives matter. We were fighting for the feminists. We were fighting for the LGBTQIA community. We were fighting for the Black community. We were fighting for the Latina@ community. We were fighting against the derogatory statements spray-painted on the campus by Trump supporters.

So we understand that all lives matter--you don't have to tell us and convince us of this.

OBVIOUSLY WE hope that this recent protest isn't just a one-off incident, but the beginning of something not just on campus but on campuses around the country in the same way that Chicago showed the country how to protest Donald Trump when he attempted to come to University of Illinois, Chicago. What do you think is next at DePaul?

I HOPE that DePaul first of all shows respect and protects its vulnerable population. They mentioned that Obama said people can't be protected from different political views. But that doesn't mean that you come into someone's house and spew hatred or bully them.

I would hope that DePaul would start to make wiser decisions. I would hope that the administration wouldn't be afraid to make a stand. I would hope that the president wouldn't be afraid to make a stand. But I will not hold my breath.

I think that DePaul has an image to uphold, and DePaul likes money. Let's be clear: DePaul likes money. It's a business, and while it has Vincentian principles, those principles are certainly not being upheld by the administration, by those in control.

We aren't done. This is the beginning of an entirely different type of movement at the university setting. This is where it is starting. A movement that says we are unafraid.

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