Fixing UC Berkeley politics starts with rhetoric we employ

Beverly Pan/Staff

Related Posts

On Oct. 5, BridgeUSA co-hosted a symposium with the Berkeley Center for New Media — BCNM — and the Graduate Assembly centered around free speech in the age of social media.

To briefly recap: The event went well.

Robert Reich and Chancellor Carol Christ delivered excellent keynote addresses, the panel speakers were compelling, and we were even privileged with a protest by a panelist who requested to remain unnamed and whose criticism against BridgeUSA and the administration was delivered via Carol-Christ-Costume.  Professors who were invited and chose not to attend had their criticisms delivered anonymously, and I earnestly believe a good job was done in attempting to represent a diversity of perspectives on the issue of free speech on this campus.  

As a member of the leadership in BridgeUSA, I’m proud of the event and I look forward to working with BCNM, the Graduate Assembly and the campus in the future. We will learn from this event and continue to grow as a still-young organization to foster more political conversation on this campus that fits with our vision of virtuous discourse.

As a student and member of the UC Berkeley community, however, I am frustrated that the event was necessary at all, despite my pride at its execution. As well as this event went, its mere existence doesn’t bode well for the praxis of politics on this campus.

My concern centers on the very idea that partisan monopolies on the issues of “Free Speech” and “Equity” — proper nouns — have become the political footballs around which we’ve framed the rift on this campus. Let it be clear: “Free speech” and “equity,” as both practice and goal, are non-negotiable. If you stand in opposition to the practice of free speech or the struggle toward equity, you have no place here, nor should you anywhere.  

What we ought to debate over is what is entailed in the respectful practice of free speech, most especially to affirm the impermissibility of hate speech designed to make parties, especially vulnerable parties, feel unsafe or targeted. Somewhere in the framing of the tumult at our campus, the issues of “Equity” and “Free Speech” became diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive and partisan.

When Milo Yiannopoulos came, students and protesters shouted him out of town. Conflicting responses to this event abound, but most believe, justifiably, that Milo came here as a provocateur first and a disputable pundit second. He sought to challenge the equity of our students and was purported to be planning to threaten vulnerable communities. That’s unacceptable, and to many here, that action entails hate speech.

Unfortunately, however, in allowing him to hide behind the rhetoric of “Free Speech,” we can no longer interrogate his action as hate speech. His hate speech is not hate speech — it’s free speech. We’ve ceded “Free Speech” as a conservative issue, and what’s more, we’ve ceded it to the same provocateurs who would bear the torch of free speech only to illuminate their hateful praxis.

When BridgeUSA came to understand that Ann Coulter would be coming to this campus, we sought to see her stand for her beliefs and grant us better understanding of our own or see her fall with her beliefs under the interrogation of UC Berkeley students.

Her practice of free speech is often reprehensible. The sniper threats that forced her cancellation are also impermissible. Now, for having not stood before interrogation, she gets to hide behind assaults on “Free Speech” without saying nor defending a word. The UC Berkeley community gave her an out.

I lean left in my own personal politics and I’m sure that bias is obvious here, but we of UC Berkeley’s political majority are not wholly innocent, either. The issue of “Equity,” too, has become a bludgeon for dangerous normative social pressures from our side. I will not equivocate black bloc groups with Nazis, but I lament that Antifa is the arbiter of “Equity.” I lament that assaulting innocent bystanders, accusing me of Nazism, and wanton endangerment of students who felt threatened by mass police presence in absentia of Antifa because it “wasn’t worth their time” are excused under the guise of preserving “Equity.”

Free speech is not hate speech, and equity is not unspecific assault. I can’t stand for Nazi punching when I’ve been called a Nazi by my very own political compatriots — which has happened — merely for my organization’s former association with Pranav Jandhyala of the Berkeley Patriot.

BridgeUSA will continue to attempt to reform campus politics toward conversation instead of conflict, but calling it “Free Speech Week” doesn’t help, nor does calling the haphazard swing of a baseball bat “Equity.” Events like ours will help, but we need a substantive rhetoric reform to dissolve the partisan divide on issues for which there can be no compromise; otherwise, there can never be conversation. BridgeUSA believes that the path toward political progress is paved by the conversation and debate between divergent political principles.


John Rider is a member of BridgeUSA’s Berkeley chapter.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • Todd

    Does no one on these pages either on the left or right actual think about what they say. Neither the 1st nor the 2nd amendments are blanket protections for what you do. For example, you can’t lie under oath, that is called perjury. If you defame someone, either in print or by speaking, then is libel or slander, as applicable, you can’t lie on most forms, that is fraud, and in countries where words have caused real harm, they can outlaw hate speech.

  • SecludedCompoundTTYS

    “When BridgeUSA came to understand that Ann Coulter would be coming to this campus, we sought to see her stand for her beliefs and grant us better understanding of our own or see her fall with her beliefs under the interrogation of UC Berkeley students.”

    HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH, too rich. I’d love for you guys try to debate Shapiro, that’d be great. It appears you think the student’s opinions are facts or something like that…

  • johnlac

    What Mr. Rider clearly doesn’t understand is that “hate” speech can be applied to people on the left. Who gets to decide what is “hate” speech and what isn’t?
    He declares himself a proponent of free speech no matter what, but it’s obvious he doesn’t like certain people having the right to free speech. Because those people, the people who disagree with him, practice “hate” speech.
    With this kind of weasel-word equivocating, Rider semi excuses the violent lelftist thugs who stop all those “haters” from speaking.. It’s a shame that they have to use baseball bats seems to be the way Rider thinks. Let’s prevent them from speaking with less violent means.

  • jim hoch

    We have a winner of the “most use of the word praxis in an editorial” award.

    • JVW

      It’s almost like college kids learn tiresome jargon from their professors and peers and then incessantly repeat it in order to sound erudite and part of the in-crowd, isn’t it?

      • zzz

        Pusillanimous jactitation of a capacious phrenic I dare say.

  • zzz

    These articles remind me of this person who was from the far left that I used to work with, when I didn’t agree with her on something she would just rephrase her position thinking I didn’t understand her the first time around, when I still didn’t agree she would rephrase it another way.

    This paper’s progressives seem to think that each time they come out against free speech they are coming up with a new way to phrase and think about it.

    This “I’m for free speech but other people might hear wrong speech” was already done during America’s two red scares.

  • Killer Marmot

    Fixing UC Berkeley politics starts with respect. Not necessarily respect for each others’ opinions, but respect for each others’ right to hold and express those opinions. Denying such rights in a fit of arrogance and self righteousness is toxic to the university and to all of society. Taken to extremes, it can rip the nation apart.

  • Man with Axe

    Is it hate speech to say that all white people are racist? I seem to read that all the time in this very newspaper.

  • Rollie

    “I lean left in my own personal politics and I’m sure that bias is obvious here…”

    This should give you pause.

    Free speech is an unbiased, politics-free, egalitarian principle. If you defend it truly, then bias is impossible. Bias can only exist where you have failed in upholding the principle.

  • this sounds like a bad case of trying to eat your cake and have it too.

  • Killer Marmot

    Shorter article: Free speech is non-negotiable, but only for those views Rider considers non-hateful.

    Here’s the problem with that. We all have a tendency to think that our views are patently correct, and that no one could sincerely hold opposing views unless they were driven by nefarious motives.

    But that is wrong. As difficult as Rider may find it to believe, many conservative views are sincerely held and driven by the highest motives.

    We all hold mistaken opinions, or at least opinions that will change with time. This realization doesn’t mean that we should not argue our points of view vigorously, but it does mean that we give opposing views a modicum of respect — yes, even those we consider loathsome — by not shutting them down.