We live in a country where the right to speak whatever nonsense that comes into your head, be it true or false, hateful of compassionate is mostly protected by under constitutional law. You can deny the holocaust, proclaim that the world was created by a space alien god, promote the supremacy of one race over others, refuse to acknowledge science and spew forth sexist insults against women and the law will protect you – And it should. To deny one side the right to speak is to limit the free discussion of ideas on all sides. By silencing the extremes, we risk that sane discourse will die away as well.
So, how do we as a people who believe strongly in freedom of speech stand against that which is reprehensible? How do we fight back when the opposition stirs our soul to action with its hateful words and when calling senators does not seem powerful enough?
Let’s start with protests which are a phenomenal way to stir up the media and rally groups together for a cause. That being said, there are a few major problems with the protest movement as of late. First, protests may quickly turn to riots. I can’t stomach most of what Milo Yiannopoulos says but the rioters who cause his events to be canceled are only bringing more attention to his ideas. He will continue to use such occurrences to make himself a martyr for his cause. The second issue with protests is the use of ignorant, often vulgar shock tactics to draw attention. Dressing as a woman’s vagina does not make a point about women’s rights. Carrying a poster depicting an aborted fetus may shock but it speaks little truth about your cause. Again, such nonsense gives the opposition fuel and prevents you from changing minds that are in fact open to change.
This brings me to my next point: Engaging in meaningful discourse. Bill Maher is having to defend his decision to have Milo Yiannopoulos appear on his show with another scheduled guest, Jeremy Scahill, canceling his scheduled appearance. While on the surface, this may seem like a good protest, but it is ineffective and short sighted. Again, it only brings more attention to the opposition. Worse than that, it eliminates the opportunity for Scahill to provide a rebuttal to Yiannopoulos’ ideas. If we are to spread truth, we must be willing to engage with the opposition openly for the sake of changing minds. Yiannopoulos is unlikely to ever change his mind on his most provocative topics, but those who follow him or those still on the fence, might be persuaded.
It’s unlikely that I or you, dear reader, will even get to the national stage in terms of discourse, but there are still ways to effectively engage in meaningful conversations and even arguments against such revolting ideas. Everyone in today’s world is on some form of social media and that may be your first instinct. Unfortunately, arguments made on Twitter and Facebook are rarely productive. Face to face, personal conversations are. If a friend or family member says something you disagree with, it is alright to graciously disagree and present evidence to your point. We are often too cautious in these areas. Also, those who write, should write. Local papers need thoughtful opinion pieces and even national news sources print letters to the editor. Engage with the media however you can.
Finally, many of us are too far removed from our local elections and pollical representatives. Hopefully the changing pollical climate will unleash a wave of town hall participants and engaged voters. We’ve certainly seen the stirrings of such a movement, but we must not let the enthusiasm diminish. Whether the issue is chickens in the city limits, school choice, or community budgeting, be informed and show up to the discussions. Such actions force elected officials to pay attention to the needs and desires of their constitutions.
For now, as a closeted liberal, I can’t join the fight in the way I would like… But soon. There are changes coming to my life which promise the freedom to speak.