[Marxism] How Violence Undermined the Berkeley Protest On Campus

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Feb 3 15:06:55 MST 2017


Then I saw someone wearing all black walk up to a student wearing a suit 
and say, “You look like a Nazi.” The student was confused, but before he 
could reply, the black-clad person pepper-sprayed him and hit him on the 
back with a rod.

I ran after the student who was attacked to get his name and more 
information. He told me that he is a Syrian Muslim. Before I could find 
out more, he fled, fearing another attack. Amid the chaos came word the 
event had been canceled.

----

NY Times Op-Ed, Feb. 3 2017
How Violence Undermined the Berkeley Protest On Campus
Malini Ramaiyer

BERKELEY, Calif. — What do you do as a reporter when a protest begins? 
You cover it.

But what about when the man being protested is known for rhetoric that 
makes you nauseated? Or when you see a student get beaten up because he 
looked “like a Nazi”?

How do you remain objective?

Those were the questions that faced me when, as a reporter for the 
student newspaper at the University of California, Berkeley, I covered 
the protest on Wednesday night at the college that turned violent, 
drawing national attention. I didn’t know what to think about it all, 
and truthfully, I still don’t.

The protesters were demonstrating against a scheduled speech on campus 
by Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart editor and right-wing provocateur, who 
had been invited by the Berkeley College Republicans.

This was always going to be a controversial event. Mr. Yiannopoulos has 
been giving inflammatory speeches on a college tour meant to push back 
against what he sees as the stifling politically correct left. But his 
language has veered decidedly toward hate speech. At the University of 
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for example, he singled out a transgender student 
for ridicule by name.

Because of actions like that, many Berkeley students and more than 100 
faculty members petitioned the university to block the event, but the 
chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, declined to do so, citing free speech.

This, of course, raises questions about free speech: Is it free speech 
if it makes us feel unsafe in our own skin? On the other hand, what does 
this campus represent if it doesn’t respect the rights of people with 
whom many of us disagree?

Protests are a staple at Berkeley and I’ve always appreciated the 
activism here. Wednesday night, I saw many creative posters urging 
people to fight Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, 
sexism and racism. One group of protesters wore red ribbons emblazoned 
“Resist,” while another led a “resistance dance party” near the venue.

Until Wednesday, I never felt in danger during a protest. Around 7 p.m. 
I saw a huddle of people yelling at one another. As more people 
surrounded them, a burning red trucker’s hat was held up on a stick. 
There were reports that another student wearing what appeared to be a 
“Make America Great Again” hat was severely injured.

Then I saw someone wearing all black walk up to a student wearing a suit 
and say, “You look like a Nazi.” The student was confused, but before he 
could reply, the black-clad person pepper-sprayed him and hit him on the 
back with a rod.

I ran after the student who was attacked to get his name and more 
information. He told me that he is a Syrian Muslim. Before I could find 
out more, he fled, fearing another attack. Amid the chaos came word the 
event had been canceled.

It was clear early on that the majority of violent protesters most 
likely were not from the campus. Still, in the aftermath, I heard people 
say that peaceful demonstrations would not have succeeded in preventing 
Mr. Yiannopoulos from speaking. So was violence appropriate?

A Trump supporter was hurt. A Syrian Muslim student was hurt. Does 
either of those statements seem more outrageous than the other?

Violence often has unintended consequences. For one thing, those who 
initiated the violence implicated many others in it too. Black students, 
Latino students, gay students and others who are already vulnerable — 
and were protesting peacefully — became even more vulnerable to the 
backlash.

When the violent protesters thought they were defeating “fascists,” 
could they imagine who else they might be hurting? When my co-reporter 
was threatened as she recorded students marching down the street, and I 
was threatened when I took pictures of the vandalism, I myself became 
afraid and upset.

There are so many people in this country who have been fighting social 
injustices for years. Acts of violence undermine their efforts, and can 
reverse good, patient work. The beauty and the defining characteristic 
of peaceful protests is that they are a struggle, and they don’t always 
translate to concrete results. How do protesters achieve success when 
they are screaming at the top of their lungs and it doesn’t seem as if 
anyone can hear? I understand that frustration. I have felt that 
frustration.

However, 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.

I understand the fight for a more progressive, just society. But this is 
not how we get there.

Malini Ramaiyer is a first-year student at the University of California, 
Berkeley.



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