UW students challenge Patriot Prayer in Seattle

February 21, 2018

Peter Ruhm reports on a protest against the far right at the University of Washington.

ON FEBRUARY 10, the far-right organization Patriot Prayer joined College Republicans and other alt-right racists for a 100-strong rally at Red Square on the University of Washington (UW) campus.

But the fascists and fascist sympathizers were met by four times that number of people who stood up to their hateful rhetoric and actions.

For the first hour, a barricade separated Patriot Prayer from the left coalition. But as the rally ensued members of Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys and other alt-right groups made their way to the center of our counter-protest to incite violence with hateful and bigoted speech.

Previously, the International Socialist Organization at UW helped form a coalition of student and community groups to join the counterdemonstration, including, to name just some, the Anti-Capitalists of UW, Huskies for NARAL, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Seattle Clinic Defense, Social Equity Educators, Socialist Alternative at UW, Veterans for Peace and Young Democratic Socialists at UW.

Counterdemonstrators outnumbered the far right at a Seattle demonstration
Counterdemonstrators outnumbered the far right at a Seattle demonstration

The coalition agreed on a statement of solidarity:

We, the undersigned organizations, have a shared understanding and commitment to confront racism, sexism, xenophobia and all other forms of discrimination and oppression on our campus and in our community. We recognize that only by uniting together in solidarity can we accomplish our goals not only to stop fascism and bigotry in the present, but also to put forth our progressive vision for a hopeful and egalitarian future.

The statement not only made a clear statement against bigoted groups like Patriot Prayer coming to campus, but set the tone for future organizing.

TO BRING their forces together, the students organized a pre-protest rally at noon a short distance away from the main action. A group of around 150 people from various sections of the left met for an open mic, in which a mix of students and non-students spoke.

Interspersed in the crowd were one or two provocateurs from the right, and three police officers surrounded the rally. Before leaving for the main protest, we were informed that the police had banned all "weapons," which conveniently included wooden slabs that were used to hold up posters.

Marching toward Red Square, the student coalition of left activists could be heard chanting "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Patriot Prayer has got to go" and "Say it loud, say it clear: Racists are not welcome here." Fliers described the student coalition on one side and chants on the other side.

Patriot Prayer was in an area surrounded on all sides by barriers, guarded by 40 police officers, who only let individuals in on the approval of the president of the College Republicans. This kept the right-wing bigots and counterprotesters largely separate for an hour until more far-right individuals crossed into the side of the counterprotesters, and clashes broke.

At this point, anti-racists began to leave out of fear. Already, the size of the counterprotest had likely been reduced by a statement the day before from the president of the university.

The memo began by defending Patriot Prayer's right to rally as a matter of free speech and a "hallmark of our mission as educators and learners." This conveniently overlooks the curtailing of speech, not only at the demonstration itself, but with the university's cancelation of events--including one celebrating Black History Month--that day because of their proximity to the Patriot Prayer rally.

The statement went on to discourage any counterprotest. But we know that avoiding bigotry and hate won't make it disappear. On the contrary, the far right will only be emboldened by its ability to recruit more members without obstruction.

Nevertheless, the counterdemonstration did strongly outnumber the right, thanks to the work of student organizers to form a coalition and spread the word. Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys could be seen leaving campus overwhelmed and unsatisfied, having failed to find an open space to spread their bigotry.

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