Free speech is the right ingredient for Republican bake sale

bake sale

While happily skipping home from school last Friday, I received a frantic phone call that would completely change the course of my evening. It was a member of Berkeley College Republicans on the other line inviting me to attend an informal meeting the club’s leadership was holding to discuss their upcoming “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” that has been drawing so much controversy lately.

Now, I am not a college Republican, or even a Republican for that matter, but I do have some experience in dealing with issues of free speech. As a former intern of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit organization that defends civil liberties at colleges across America, I have studied several affirmative action bake sale cases before. Thus, I immediately accepted the invitation to offer my advice about what the group can and cannot do next Tuesday. On my walk over, the bright Berkeley day turned gloomy, eerily foreshadowing my change in mood.

In a darkly lit room, a nervous cluster of college Republicans sat waiting to hear the latest bit of backlash. These students are afraid for their lives. For the past few days, some of them have received violent threats through Facebook, email and even in person. As I sat listening to the sad conversation, a whirlwind of thoughts flew through my mind.

Is this the Berkeley I had dreamed about in high school? A place where people are physically threatened for speaking their mind? It seems to me that the home of the Free Speech Movement had become blatantly hypocritical, abandoning its adherence to rational discourse at points of disagreement. This thought seemed to be confirmed upon arriving at the “Emergency Town Hall” meeting hosted that night by the Rochdale Apartments co-op, where the group was promptly ejected along with reporters from The Daily Californian. Apparently diversity of opinion was not welcome at this allegedly open forum.

Community members assemble in the Rochdale apartments Common Room to discuss the Increase Diversity Bake Sale event being held September 27, 2011 on Upper Sproul Plaza.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I am not defending the College Republicans for the content of their message. As the former president of a political club at Cal myself, I wouldn’t dare organize such a provocative event. Republicans are already demonized at our famously liberal university, and such a bake sale only makes the face of the perceived conservative enemy appear even less human. Indeed, the backlash may well be justified and has every right to be heard, so long as it remains nonviolent.

However, just as I defend their opponents’ right to voice their dissent, so too do I stand up for the College Republicans’ right to express their contentious message — all in the name of free speech that Berkeley so strongly claims to cherish. Having completed their paperwork properly, the campus has no right to shut down the event under the First Amendment. Furthermore, considering a strong legal precedent, the ASUC has no right to defund the student group because of the content of their viewpoint. Anyone who says otherwise runs contrary to the morality of freedom, the legal power of the First Amendment and the principles of the Free Speech Movement.

Indeed, Berkeley is at a crossroads between a glorified past and hypocritical future, a choice between upholding the principles of free speech we so adore or abandoning them to the tyranny of the majority. So, I ask my fellow Golden Bears, what will we be remembered as championing — freedom or censorship?

Follow Casey Given on Twitter @CaseyJGiven

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  • Anonymous

    Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) of University of California Berkeley displaces qualified
    for public university education at Cal. Californians for $50,600  payment by FOREIGN students.

     

    The University
    of California Berkeley,
    ranked # 70 Forbes, is not increasing enrollment.  $50,600 tuition FOREIGN students are accepted
    by Birgeneau at the expense of qualified instate students.

     

    UC Regent Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof agree discriminating
    against instate Californians for admission to UC Berkeley. Birgeneau, Yudof, Lansing need to answer to
    Californians.

     

    Your opinion makes a difference; email UC Board of
    Regents   [email protected]

  • Josh

    If the Berkeley College Republicans are serious about their message, they should want their event to be shut down.

    It’s simple: if the event you’re hosting is (satirically) modeled off of a structure which you think cannot ethically exist, then motivating people to shut it down is your goal. The BCR can then tout the success of their event, having demonstrated that not even the students can tolerate a policy of Affirmative Action. Proclaiming that the shutdown of the event was a success would also highlight the inconsistencies in some of the opposing arguments.

    Of course, it’s not that simple. This can only work (to change people’s minds) if the student body makes the effort to recognize the true nature of their satire. But even if most people don’t get it, the BCR can change the only minds who can benefit from their event.

  • AlumniX

    Mr. Casey Given,

    Thank you.

    This event has hit my Alma matter like a hurricane, and your
    article is a respite of clear analysis like the proverbial eye of the
    hurricane.  There is no shortage of
    opinion concerning this event, or for that matter…there is no shortage of heated
    emotions.

    The BRC came up with a club event that seems to be right out
    of the television cartoon series South Park. 
    Just like that cartoon series they managed to insult practically
    everyone.  At a time when Republicans
    could use an influx of new members the BRC event motivates potential members to
    walk away and seek alternative political groups to join.

    The opposing groups in their reaction, or overreaction, to
    the event have somehow managed to fumble away their sense of civil rights.  Freedom of Speech is a two way street, but
    not in fascist and totalitarian states. 
    As their wrath is unleashed upon the BRC they fail to realize that they
    themselves are committing acts that oppress a minority group on campus much the
    same way that is done in Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. (Note: in those countries
    college minority clubs that oppose the regimes official view and position are
    outlawed on universities.  Seriously, not
    just prohibited from passing out pamphlets, but outlawed as in the police
    arrest the college students that are members of those clubs).

    On a side note.  Many
    from within the Cal Alumni community look upon this event with humor, but also
    with relief that we are no longer undergrads having to put up with a situation
    like this one interfering with our college education.  In addition, a large number of Cal Alumni
    personally view the continuous growing interference from non-Berkeley groups
    pimping their politics on the undergrad student body as having reached the level
    of problematic long, long ago.

     

    Thank you Mr. Casey Given,

    Sincerely, AlumniX

  • Truthiness

    I’m not a Berkeley student, but I do go to college and I do have many friends at Cal. From the East Coast, all of this looks really funny. For one, what DID the Republicans expect when they decided to put this forward? Defend it with stone-faced insolence? Come on, now!
    But the so-called “liberals” that retaliated to the event, like in so many other retaliatory responses, were just ridiculous. It was unbelievably obvious how immature the Republicans’ actions were. It was meant to inflame, to incite the very response that “liberals” showed, and the “liberals” fell into the trap–demonizing themselves toward trolls. 
    I think if everyone took a step back and cocked their heads and made a face that said, “U SRS, MAN?” and then move on with their lives, then the campus would be a better place. Why? Because, ultimately, the Republicans on campus are a minority; they are a fringe minority, if you will. This response squashes them all the more, which reduces civil discourse, and generates an atmosphere of oppression and a mentality of us vs. them. 
    If your liberal education has taught you anything valuable, it should be that it’s not us vs. them. It’s just a bunch of people talking and trying to be the loudest ones and whether you listen and whether you give that speech power is up to you.

    So, instead of getting immediately inflamed and take sides when you see these things (because you’ll see a hell of a lot more after Cal), take a step back, laugh a bit, and realize that these things can’t possibly take a foothold in anyone’s minds. And if you so have a fear that they would, do something. Otherwise, let the trolls troll.

    • H4RL4N

      Unfortunately, its mindsets like this that equates “the other sides” ideology to a mental disease or horrible character defect rather than just an ideology that makes it difficult to get anything done in this country.

    • Pretty Hips McGee

      “what DID the Republicans expect when they decided to put this forward?”
       
      A discussion as to the basic fairness of affirmative action.
       
      “It was meant to inflame, to incite the very response that “liberals” showed”
       
      It didn’t seem very hard to do, and let’s face it. It wasn’t just embarrassing. It was predictable.
       
      “and whether you listen and whether you give that speech power is up to you.”
       
      But not in this case.  Here the authorities stifled the political expressions of citizens on a public campus.

  • Thomas

    If you’re going to denounce campus groups, communities, or institutions for restricting free speech, you better have an idea of what’s actually going on. The Senate has not passed any bills limiting or denouncing free speech; in fact, every Senator is in complete support of free speech on this campus in every form. They have absolutely no intent on defunding the BCR, or banning the event. 

    It is definitely problematic that people have been threatening the creators of the event, and I don’t think anyone should turn anger into threats of violence. On the other hand, while I am sorry that their lives have been made uncomfortable, when you create an event and put your name onto it you take responsibility for the content and the backlash. 

  • Anonymous

    It is not right that the University of California Chancellor Birgenea selects applicants that pay $50,600 over instate applicants.

    University
    of California Berkeley Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau
    ($500,000 salary), displaces qualified for public university education at Cal.
    Californians with $50,600 FOREIGN students.

     

    Ranked # 70 by Forbes, the University of California
    Berkeley is not increasing enrollment.  $50,600 FOREIGN students are accepted by
    Birgeneau at the expense of qualified instate students.

     

    Your opinions make a difference; email UC Board of
    Regents   [email protected]

  • Anonymous

    When I went to UCSD 15 yrs ago Louis Farrakhan could speak freely without any outrage but anyone who questioned affirmative action created an uproar.  What hypocrasy.  Praise Hitler if you are black and it’s free speech, question anything that affects blacks and their are threats of violence

    • Guest

      Quit commenting on the Daily Cal if you didn’t even go to Berkeley and are unable to spell “hypocrisy” and distinguish between “there” and “their.”

      • Pretty Hips McGee

        Good job Guest catching the errors and missing the point.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

        Quit commenting on the Daily Cal if you didn’t even go to Berkeley

        Who appointed you policeman of this forum?

  • http://twitter.com/Promontorium Joshua Wise

    Very good article. If there hadn’t been so much hatred and violent threats from students, and hypocrisy from the student senate I wouldn’t even be paying attention to this Bake Sale. I think the reaction is bigger news than the protest.  But I still fear your opinion will be a drop in the pond. I’m glad 1 person with an official Cal channel can say this, but when the senate comes swooping down to crush free speech, I’m going to be looking for step two with the administration really punishing students. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

    Everyone: Here’s how we can support the side of right and put a finger
    in the face of the control freaks in ASUCk. The BCR need to put up an
    E-bay or Paypal site on-line and sell virtual diversity cupcakes. I
    don’t care if it’s just a freaking picture of a cupcake, I will gladly
    sign up for 10 of them and forward $20 for them to set up a legal
    defense fund to fight this bovine scat. Not that I’m a Republican or
    even agree with half of what the GOP stands for, but they are in the
    right on this one and don’t need to be singled out for persecution by a
    bunch of junior NSDAP wannabes…

  • George

    According to 2010 census whites make up 57.6% of California and Asians are 13.0%; and UC Berkeley’s incoming class 2010 was 31.7% white and 45.7% Asian.  What would happen if someone introduced a bill similar to SB 185 but allowing for preferential admittance to whites?  Roll on you Bears! (both the left wing nuts and all others).

    • Pretty Hips McGee

      I would apply for admission and in spite of my mediocrity I might be accepted.

  • Jim Miller

    Good point.  How ridiculous that so-called liberals will move to use legalese to shut down the free speech of conservatives.  Shouldn’t we let people say things that are obnoxious, so if they only end up embarrassing themselves, freedom will be its own punishment?

  • Andre Louis

    “Republicans are already demonized at our famously liberal university, and such a bake sale only makes the face of the perceived conservative enemy appear even less human.”

    The notion that the way to get the message of the political right heard is to submit to rules of conversation dictated by the opposition is ridiculous. Liberals don’t have to be civil. They can accuse detractors of being savage bigots, take over buildings, and apparently, threaten to suppress free expression outright. Sometimes mockery is the only way to get the point across, and given that even a dry, academic critique of affirmative action would almost certainly draw identical, albeit less hysterical claims of ill-disguised racism, I say hurrah to defending reason through unapologetic satire. 

    Apart from that, I applaud your defense of BCR in their efforts to compete on an open marketplace of ideas. Love always, Casey.

  • former Cal

    as a former Cal student, I actually found this controversy amusing. I mean, seriously, what do the Berkeley Republicans expect otherwise? Berkeley has long moved away from the true spirit of Free Speech. It has been “free speech as long as you agree with me” for the past decade or so. I remember a visit by Israeli prime minister Natanyahu when I was there. Let me be clear, I found the guy’s policy completely offensive, but the student response to his planned speech was outright immature. They chanted slogan and created such a ruckus Mr. Natanyahu was unable to talk at all and subsequently was escorted off the event. 

    I guess something never changes. Berkeley students have to calm down and rethink their approach. Otherwise, Berkeley will become the shame of liberalism in this country. Social progress will never be made this way. Berkeley Republicans are the minority, by far. And the treatment they are receiving now clearly suggests the mainstream Berkeley has no ability to tolerate minority view, despite all the pro-“minority” rhetorics. 

    • H4RL4N

      It’s surreal. Where once the students gathered to have their voice heard because they they were being drowned out by people that didn’t agree, now the students gather in protest to drown out those they don’t agree with. Sad man. Just really sad.

    • Anonymous

      they already are shameful

  • Anonymous

    Free speech is one thing, and probably the only reason they’re tolerated on this campus, but they just went way too far. They are advertising their blatant racism and hate.  

    From CNN, quoting the BCR president,
    “The pricing structure is there to bring attention, to cause people to get a little upset,”
    Well eff you too if you’re having an event that is trying to intentionally make people upset. What kind of BS is that?!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

      [Free speech is one thing, and probably the only reason they’re tolerated
      on this campus, but they just went way too far. They are advertising
      their blatant racism and hate.]

      As to be expected, you inject your silly spin into events. The BCR wasn’t “advertising blatant racism and hate” by ANY stretch of the imagine. In fact, they were mocking and criticizing what they (and many others, including some liberals) consider to be a policy that is discriminatory in itself. However, I understand fully why you think they went too far. Anyone who has followed the mindset of the Left knows that they can’t tolerate any ideas or thoughts that deviate from their Politically Correct party line…

    • http://www.andrewfong.com/ Andrew Fong

      Free speech isn’t worth much if you can’t make people upset. The point of the event is to say, “If you’re upset about our bake sale, then why aren’t you also upset about SB 185? How are they different?”

      There are probably lots of ways to differentiate the two, and your energies would be better spent speaking about those differences rather than dismissing it as racism.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

        Good point. Funny how many of those on the Left who don’t mind burning American flags, shouting down speakers at public events, or calling people “stupid” and “ignorant” when they disagree with them, suddenly have great concerns for “sensitivity” when it’s THEIR own ox being gored.

    • Think First

      The BCR is “tolerated” on this campus because they are also a student group exercising the same principals of inclusion propounded by the ASUC.

      You and others like yourself tolerate the BCR because you don’t agree with them and would otherwise like to see them disappear but are bound by what I assume to be your principles of “liberalism” and therefore resort to finger-pointing and name-calling.

      lib·er·al/ˈlib(ə)rəl/
      Adjective: Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
      Noun: A person of liberal views

      The BCR may not be espousing “new” opinions but they are certainly fresh on Berkeley’s campus.

  • Jason Rodriguez

    Berkeley is selective in their admissions process and can only allow a certain amount of students to attend each year. They cannot allow too many students due to various factors like resource capacity. So the amount of students going in each year is relatively fixed. Right now the Asian population at Berkeley is almost exactly 40% per OSR’s report. Let us assume it to be 37-40% because certain Asian races will be considered under the bill. The white population is 30.3%. By factoring race admissions, there will obviously be students of Asian and White descent who will not be able to attend for mostly the sole reason of race. By modeling expected Black student enrollment after 1990’s data (Affirmative Action was allowed then), I believe the goal might be, say 9% (its 3% right now) for black students, which is in line with ivy league figures. Assuming a constant 37-40% and 30% population for Asians and Whites I mentioned above (been like this for many years now) in that case, 1700+ seats will need to be either CREATED or VACATED. Creation is near impossible due to our budget cuts. This is only for the black population, I have not even mentioned the Hispanic students like me, whom will see increases undoubtedly as well. Due to my religious beliefs and convictions do not see this as fair because students will be displaced based almost solely on skin color alone. I understand the need for minority representation but the mechanics of how this will happen as I just illustrated sound extremely disturbing. How will you guys reconcile White and Asian students being excluded based on almost skin color alone? I understand the need for more black and hispanic representation but I cannot bear to support implicit race-based exclusion of well-qualified students. http://osr2.berkeley.edu/twiki/bin/view/Main/Fall2010EthnicDistribution