“We are all immigrants”
“Shut it down. No racists in our town.”
“Sexist, racist, anti-gay, right-wing bigot go away.”
These are just of a few of the slogans and signs which greeted former Congressman Tom Tancredo (R) at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill campus on April 14. Student protesters gathered within the room where Tancredo was scheduled to talk, spilling outside the room and congregating outside the building.
After campus police removed two girls holding a sign that read “No dialogue with hate,” Tancredo began his speech. “The DREAM Act with which I am familiar, certainly the one that we’ve tried, that has been tried in Congress, is one that is designed simply to remove the federal obstacle that is there that would prevent most states, all states actually, from moving ahead unilaterally with their own version of …providing in-state tuition for people who are not presently legally in the United States,” he said.
Tancredo’s comments ended abruptly a few moments later when another couple of female students brought a banner stating “No One Is Illegal” to the front of the room, raising the sign in front of the speaker’s face.
Seconds later, an agitator outside broke in a glass window and Tancredo fled the building.
The protest at UNC-Chapel Hill bore many of the same hallmarks as a smaller demonstration at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst this March. There, the College Republicans chapter had invited Don Feder to speak about hate crimes legislation. UMass Amherst students held signs reading “abolish hate” and “hate speech leads to hate crimes” and laughed when Feder was called an “intellectual.” One student in the video said “get ready to show these bigots that we’re not allowing hate on our campus.”
Neither speaker, Feder nor Tancredo, was allowed to give his prepared remarks, and in Feder’s case the crowd of rowdy students shouted him out of the room, chanting, “Don’t come back. Don’t come back.”
The growing belief among some campus activists seems to be that those whom parlay what the protestors deem hate speech have no speech rights themselves. Thus the UNC-Chapel Hill Students for a Democratic Society chapter posted “an open letter to Chancellor Holden Thorp” by Billie Murray shortly after these events. She writes that “It has been argued in the past couple of days that supporters of free speech should be tolerant of all speech. While I am of the view that as a democratic society we must be tolerant of dissenting views, in no way does this mean that all speech promotes democratic ends or should be tolerated.”
What speech should be “tolerated,” then, and who decides? Apparently, only the perspectives approved by Billie and her friends.
“Put simply, some stories are better than others,” Murray writes, continuing
“The litmus test for these ‘better stories’ include those that promote tolerance, acceptance, social justice, equality, and yes, free speech. The rhetoric espoused by [Youth for Western Civilization] and Mr. Tancredo does not promote tolerance of difference and silences those who are ‘different.’ Why then should we be tolerant of a rhetoric that in no way promotes the goals of a democracy and that creates a culture of fear and hate? Hate speech silences free speech.”
Murray, a graduate student in Communications, does “research [which] focuses on the rhetoric of social movements, especially as that relates to answering questions about the materiality of protest activity in the public sphere. Her most recent work focuses on the efficacy of protest as utilized by human rights organizations.”
The UNC-Chapel Hill SDS chapter maintains that the violence surrounding Tuesday’s events were the result of police violence. “It is our firm belief that the actions of the Campus Police caused the escalation outside the event. All organizations involved in the protest were non-violent,” they wrote. “Rather, it was the violence employed by the Campus Police that created a climate of fear and chaos. The issue is not about a broken window; it is about broken families, deportation and xenophobia.”
As of this writing, the SDS chapter has received statements of solidarity from
• The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) SDS
• The International Action Center
• The Arab American Action Network
• Latinos Against the War
• UNC-Ashville SDS
• the Philadelphia SDS
• New York University Students Creating Radical Change (aka, Take Back NYU)
• the Palante Action Network,
• The Chapel Prison Books Collective, and
• UNC-Asheville Hispanic Outreach for Learning and Awareness (HOLA).
But not everyone agrees that only ‘good’ speech should be heard.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) North Carolina Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger told the Associated Press that the protests led to “de facto censorship.” “Censorship is not the answer to hate speech. Hate speech is protected by the Constitution,” she said.
Many students disagree as well. “Nobody had the opportunity to hear what Tom Tancredo had to say, so we were never able to figure out if his views were radical or not,” stated the President of the Young Democrats, Justin Rosenthal at a rally later that week.
Anthony Dent, president of the College Republicans chapter, said that “The UNC College Republicans disagree vehemently with the aims of the Youth for Western Civilization, but we must respect everyone who wishes to express an opinion.”
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.