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protest Tag

How to Oppose White Supremacists Without Becoming a Monster, Yourself

  There is a danger in opposing white supremacists. In confronting such an odious set of beliefs, you can justify suspending your own strongest held moral convictions as a necessary end to defeating their prejudices. It’s easy to see how this might happen. When hearing an ignorant troll like Richard Spencer arrogantly spouting warmed over Nazi propaganda, it is quite natural to wish to issue a rebuttal in the form of your fist. You can follow the logic all the way from your heart to your knuckles. Your thought process might go something like this: This fool is so enamored with violence, let him suffer the consequences of it. But that is conceding the point. That is giving the white supremacist his due. It’s entering his world and playing by his rules. Oh, I’m sure it’s satisfying, but it’s the wrong way to respond. However, on the other hand one can’t simply smile and nod during Spencer’s tirade and then expect to reciprocate with an academic treatise. No cogent, logical, professorial come back is going to counter the purely emotional arguments made by white supremacists. They are stoking fear and hatred. Logic is useless here. So what are anti-racist anti-facists like ourselves supposed to do when confronted with people like this? We have to walk a razor’s edge between two poles. On the one hand, we can’t tolerate intolerance. I know that’s paradoxical. But it’s true. As Vienna-born philosopher Karl Popper put it in The Open Society and Its Enemies, unlimited tolerance leads to the destruction of tolerance. If we tolerate the intolerant, if we give them equal time to offer their point of view and don’t aggressively counter their views, they will inevitably resort to violence and wipe our side out. This doesn’t mean immediately punching them in the face or violently attacking them. For Popper, we should let rationality run its course, let them have their say and usually their ideas will be rejected and ignored. However, if this doesn’t happen and these ideas start to take root as they did in Nazi Germany (or perhaps even today in Trump’s America), then Popper says we must stop them by “fists or pistols.” In short, Popper writes: “We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.” Popper believed in the free expression of ideas, but when one of those ideas leads to violence, it is no longer to be tolerated. Then it is outside the law and must be destroyed. What then do we do with our commitment to nonviolence? Do we reluctantly agree to push this constraint to the side if push comes to shove? No. This is the other pole we must navigate...

Respecting Student Free Speech Was Hard for Adults During Today’s School Walkout

The kids are all right. It’s the adults you have to watch. The walkout planned nationwide to protest gun violence today on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting came to my western Pennsylvania school – and we weren’t ready for it. In fact, up until today no one had mentioned a thing about it. I had asked teachers if they wanted to do something and was told it was up to the students to lead. I had asked the high school student council if they were interested in participating, but there wasn’t much of a response. Then this morning in the middle school where I teach, there was an impromptu two minute meeting where we were told some kids might walk out and that we should just let them go. Their right to free speech would be respected and there wouldn’t be any penalty for participating. However, as a teacher, I was instructed not to bring up the subject, not to allow discussion and only to attend if all of my students decided to go. That’s a hard position to be in. It’s like being put in a metaphorical straight jacket. But I tried. When my 7th grade kids came in, they were all a buzz about something and I couldn’t really ask why. The suspense was broken with a sledge hammer during second period when one of my most rambunctious students asked if he could use the restroom at 10 am. That was over an hour away. I told him he couldn’t reserve an appointment for a bathroom break but he could go now if he wanted. Then he explained himself. At 10 am he was walking out. The room exploded. They had heard about the nationwide walkout at 10 – the time of the Parkland shooting. They knew kids all across the land were leaving class for 17 minutes – 60 seconds for each life lost in the shooting. But that was pretty much it. They didn’t know what it was that kids were protesting. They didn’t know why they were protesting. They just knew it was something being done and they wanted to do it. It was at this point I took off my metaphorical straight jacket. I couldn’t simply suppress the talk and try to move on with the lesson – on propaganda, wouldn’t you believe! We talked about the limits of gun laws – how some people wanted background checks for people wishing to purchase guns. We talked about regulating guns for people with severe mental illnesses, criminal backgrounds or suspected terrorists. We talked about how there used to be a ban on assault weapons sales and how that was the gun of choice for school shooters. We even talked about what students might do once they walked out of the building. They couldn’t just mill around for all that time. Since we were in the middle of a unit on poetry, someone suggested reading poems about guns and gun violence. Students quickly...

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