Solidarity is the solution to the far right’s threats
Since Donald Trump's election, the far right has stepped out of the shadows and onto college campuses. Openly fascist organizations like Matthew Heimbach's Traditionalist Worker Party and Identity Evropa have been openly recruiting on some campuses, and the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there have been at least 220 separate instances of white nationalist propaganda appearing on over 140 college campuses nationwide.
Tragic events like the murder of African American student Richard Collins III on the campus of the University of Maryland or of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville at the hands of white supremacists should be enough to show administrators that this message of hate has no place on college campuses or anywhere else. Instead, it seems that many administrators have chosen to continue providing cover for right-wing hatemongers under the guise of defending free speech.
Recently, the administration at California State University-Fullerton (CSUF) allowed the College Republicans to invite "alt-right" provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to campus. Yiannopoulos, who has doxxed trans students and encouraged followers to turn undocumented students over to ICE on other campuses, is to appear at CSUF on October 31.
The CSUF Republicans' invitation to Milo is part of an ongoing pattern of racist harassment on the Cal State campus that began at a pro-Palestine event earlier this year and has continued since then. But CSUF students are refusing to stand for this--a number of student groups are working together to challenge the right wing and to organize a counter-event if the Yiannopoulos meeting takes place. Liz Sanchez of Students for Quality Education (SQE), and Adriana and Lianni, co-chairs of the campus chapter of MEChA, talked to, a member of the Campus Antifascist Network, about the political climate on campus and the struggle against the right.
GIVE US some background about the invitation being extended to Milo Yiannopoulos. What events have led up to now?
Liz: Cal State Fullerton has been dealing with a lot of drama since the election of Donald Trump. A lot of the political groups on campus got together--we wanted to protect our communities and speak up. So we started to have a lot of events, rallies and peaceful protest events as well.
Then, at our "No Ban, No Wall" rally [in February of 2017], the College Republicans showed up with a mock wall, and after that, everything went downhill as far as the left vs. the right on campus. They started targeting more groups on campus that were active on the left.
I think they see us as vulnerable groups because a lot of us are gender minorities, people of color, or queer or trans*. They did everything that they could to try to make fun of us--like making mock events on campus, including the "Students for Enchiladas" event or flyers saying "Chicanx is Not a Real Word."
So with this buildup of attempts to put us down, I think the "cherry on top" for them to feel like they beat us politically is to bring Milo to campus.
Adriana: Things really did start getting more heated after the election. And it wasn't just "I don't believe in what you believe in"--it's been harassment. Multiple false SQE social media accounts were created--two fake Instagram pages and one fake Twitter account. They go out of their way to harass students who are minority groups. We've proven that the left, or student groups associated with the left on campus, try to avoid them, but all of the aggression comes from the College Republicans.
WHAT JUSTIFICATION has been given for inviting Milo to appear?
Lianni: One of the major ways they try and justify it is that it's "freedom of speech." But there's a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Given who Milo is and what he represents, he will be bringing hate speech and inciting violence, and that's wrong.
Adriana: That's the only justification they've given: free speech. They don't try to defend what he says or justify what he promotes. They're really only interested in causing distress among students who identify as queer or trans or Chicanx or any minority group that has been marginalized.
Liz: Aside from arguing for "freedom of speech," they also argue for the importance of hearing other ideas and of allowing a space on campus for the right to be heard.
But Milo is such an extreme version of that. He talks about everything from how he microwaved cats when he was younger to wanting to kill all Arab or Muslim babies, because he's gay and he feels that these babies will grow up to be ISIS terrorists who will try and murder him.
These aren't ideas that the college should value. Cal State Fullerton President Mildred Garcia: do we stand for the genocide of innocent children? I do not stand for that. The student coalition does not stand for that.
WHAT ARE your personal and organizational objections to the College Republicans bringing Milo to campus?
Adriana: As MECha, one of our objectives or goals is to be a social, political and cultural organization. We have stood against political ideas and figures who have caused harm to marginalized groups. Our goal is to protect people.
We feel like Milo coming onto campus allows and justifies violence against these groups. Ever since the election, there have been more hate crimes on campus or attacks on certain groups because people feel like it's justified or allowed. The people who identify as alt-right feel like it's okay to say and do these things, and we don't want that here. We want our students to be safe.
Liz: Like MEChA, SQE is a social and political organization. We do aim to look at issues of student equity, but it's all under the umbrella of intersectionality.
We want to protect communities. And we are students. We are poor and in debt. One in 10 students is homeless, and one in four is food insecure. So one of the things that SQE has pointed out is the cost. We shouldn't be giving money to fund an armed police presence on campus when Milo comes. We should not be supporting militarization.
The administration reminds us to be nonviolent. It constantly says things like "Now don't be like Berkeley, don't be like Berkeley." I'm not denouncing Berkeley or their community's response, but the administration's presumption is that all counterprotesters are violent people. And the glaring contradiction is that the administration is inviting a man to come speak here who is inciting violence.
What he is saying encourages violence and is creating a culture of violence. So how can you sit here and lecture students about being nonviolent and then allow someone like Milo to do what he does because you don't what a lawsuit? The administration seems to think that it's the queer people and trans people, lower-class people and people of color who are always the violent thugs.
Adriana: The administration always has these conversations with students or student organizations like MEChA or SQE, but the hammer never seems to come down on the College Republicans. The harassment that left organizations here have faced has been reported, but nothing has ever been done. And it's been happening for over a year.
It's hypocritical to call us violent when you're inviting someone here who talks about pounding down feminists and destroying them, and says other things that will incite violence.
WOULD YOU agree that it is the members of campus organizations endorsing or supporting Milo that are the ones engaging in acts that should be construed as violent?
Liz: They're attacking our identities and telling us that we don't matter or that we shouldn't exist. It almost makes us feel like we need to go into hiding so that they don't find us--that is definitely a kind of violence.
At the same time, there have been some scary comments. I've been told to remember that if I keep criticizing the College Republicans for hate speech, they're the ones with all the guns. I asked this person to clarify, and he said that they would fight if their backs are against the wall.
I reported this to the administration, and they told me that since he didn't threaten me personally, they couldn't do anything. Later, I received a message from another Republican telling me that I better learn how to defend myself. Again, I approached administration, and again nothing. They said it was another gray area.
But in the work that we do, we know what this means. A lot of us to have conversations about how we're scared for each other. We're scared that there's going to have to be a martyr for something to change. And we don't want that to happen to anyone, but we'll keep doing what we have to so we can help our campus communities.
WHAT DO you think will happen if Milo comes to campus?
Liz: The reality is that Milo does bring along a certain crowd when he comes to campuses. Hopefully, the campus community will be able to figure out a way, going forward, to protect one another and keep ourselves safe. Plus, they're talking about bringing about 300 cops here when Milo comes.
DOES THE intensified law enforcement presence on campus result in greater anxiety for some?
Adriana: Definitely. Those forces aren't here to protect us from hateful groups like the KKK. They're here to keep down the counterprotesters, the ones who don't want this hate here. There's been a sort of cloud looming over us like there's going to be a gun held to our heads--as if to say: "If you do anything wrong, this is what's going to happen to you."
I feel for anyone who identifies as queer, or trans*, or Chicanx or as part of any marginalized community--there's stress about this. Because with what's happened at Berkeley and what's happened at Charlottesville, we know how the police treat an alt-right event versus a peaceful left-wing protest.
Lianni: Along with the anxiety, there's just been so much fear on campus, especially for our students who are undocumented. Along with DACA being rescinded, this adds so much more fear of police action or deportation. It hurts these communities.
Liz: The fear is definitely there. With all the work that we do and how we've put ourselves out there, I'm terrified. But I also have faith in our community. With all of the hard work we've been doing, and working with other student groups and faculty, I feel like we're going to pull together something that will be amazing.
The other side is wild--we don't know what to expect from them. But there's faith here that CSUF will put an event together, and something good will come out of it.
What empowers me is seeing our most vulnerable communities still resist. There are still undocumented students who want to show up, who want to be a part of the rallies, even though they put themselves at risk. So for me, if they're willing to fight for their community, I can do anything. Together, we can do anything.
CAN YOU talk about the faculty response?
Liz: With faculty, there has been a great response. Some have said that nobody should show up that day, but we all know that's not realistic. With other faculty, we've gotten a lot of encouragement and help for organizing a counter-event. The faculty has really helped us organize our thoughts and focus our energy.
It feels awesome to know that the faculty has your back. As a student, with tuition going up and lack of access to important resources, sometimes, it feels like we're alone. But when the faculty has your back, it's like "Okay, there's something that we can do." They validate your thoughts about wanting to make change.
Adriana: It feels wonderful as students to have the support of faculty. And they understand us. Many of them know what it's like to struggle financially, because many of them do struggle. I've heard about faculty who are homeless, who live in their cars.
Again, this is another reason why we don't want Milo here. It's a financial burden that we shouldn't be forced as a community of faculty and students to bear. We can't afford this.
HOW DO you think the funds used to bring a hatemonger to campus would be better spent?
Lianni: Instead of funding Milo, this money should go to cultural councils, like the Black Student Union or Mesa Cooperativa. These organizations represent student of color on campus, and they're so underfunded.
Adriana: I think since so many students struggle with food insecurity or homelessness that I would like to see that money used to create a food bank on campus for students who don't have access. I know a lot of friends who have gone hungry because they have to decide between eating or having gas to get home that night.
I think the money could be used to give back to the students. A lot of wasteful spending has already taken place, and I think this could supplement students here in a really helpful way.
Liz: We've been working with a lot of undocumented students here, and since many of them are going to be losing DACA, one of the things that we came up with is using this money to create internships or scholarships. From food insecurity and homelessness to our underfunded student councils or vulnerable students in need of support, there are better ways to spend this money.
HOW CAN people who would like to help get involved?
Lianni: One of the best ways to show support is to get active in some way. Because the fact is that in times and situations like these, if you're silent, it's honestly just as bad as helping people who incite violence and hate speech. Try and come out to events. Bring some bodies and show support to prove that these marginalized communities aren't going to be attacked, and that we're going to stay strong.
Liz: Connect to us through social media definitely. SQE is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. By following us on those platforms, you'll get a lot of information about events, organizing and how you can help.
Adriana: Also, please sign the petition and encourage people who can to attend our events. We want to show that not only are CSUF students not tolerating this, but that we will not stand for this as a larger community.