I’m not normally one to engage in politics. I’m not the type of person that posts Facebook statuses about my beliefs or that comments on others’ trying to prove my point. I’ve never been that way, as I’ve always preferred to avoid confrontation where possible. I believe that everyone should be allowed to have their own justified opinions, to speak on behalf of their own beliefs and to be accepted by others as a result. We live in a society where communication is relatively open and free and where – at least, at one point – your opinion was welcomed with open arms, and you would not be silenced or harassed as a result.
That no longer seems to be the case.
I work in tech PR full-time and spend my free time working in journalism. I understand both sides of the spectrum and the way that free speech allows us to do our job in the way that we do. Free speech is a core American value that allows us to create, write, explore and express our passions through the companies we build and the jobs that we do. San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area is a hub of innovation and creativity in terms of business and technology (and, might I add, is strongly based of immigrants). Many of the massive tech companies that dominate globally have their roots here. It is also one of the most notable places in terms of embracing free speech – not only with individuals, but with the tech giants who live here too.
As a Cal alum, the UC Berkeley riots that occurred last Wednesday – just on the other side of the bridge from my current residence in San Francisco – hit close to home as I received numerous texts and messages asking if I was there, participating and/or safe (this is a wonderful take from Rolling Stone on what happened). For those of you who are unclear on what happened, a Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak on campus that evening. He is known for his far-right political stance and UC Berkeley was the “last stop of a tour aimed at defying what he calls an epidemic of political correctness on college campuses.”
Before I jump in, let me make one thing clear: free speech is free speech. I respect Yiannopoulos from a journalistic standpoint in his aim to express himself freely. It is important to remember, however, that free speech also means that individuals who do not agree with Yiannopoulos are also allowed to speak out.
Quite frankly, I would’ve been surprised if UC Berkeley had not protested in some form. Cal is one of the most liberal schools in the country, and its population is known to stand up for their beliefs. Think of the Black Lives Matter protests, the walk-outs around the election and inauguration, the tuition hike demonstrations, the DAPL protests and many more. UC Berkeley is often in the news because we fight for what we believe is right. We want our voices to be heard. Free speech is our M.O.
Don’t get me wrong: violence is never the answer, and I do not side with those who felt that violent actions were the best way to voice opinions about Milo being on campus. However, there were people who were protesting peacefully. This article from the California Golden Blogs explains this more in-depth: how the violence was brought upon the event by anarchists that intruded on the campus. The university released a statement addressing this, part of which read:
The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest.
Campus officials said they condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence and unlawful behavior that was on display and deeply regret that those tactics now overshadow the efforts of the majority to engage in legitimate and lawful protest against the performer’s presence at Berkeley and his perspectives.
Regardless of this, people across the country have escalated the matter to make it one of national attention. Many have made overgeneralizing assumptions that all liberals are violent, that they destroy everything, that they should be shamed for their actions. They take stabs at stereotypes. It’s unfair.
— Lori Hendry (@Lrihendry) February 2, 2017
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) February 2, 2017
Even this morning, after I tweeted my support for free speech as a result of these riots, I was berated with tweets from a handful of Trump-supporting Twitter users. Now, I know there are Trump supporters who are also harassed and trolled on social media; it is indeed a two way street, and there is hypocrisy on both sides. I also know that there are people who support Trump but do not agree with everything he’s done thus far, and in no way should all Trump supporters be grouped together under one umbrella. This is merely a statement about our current political state as a whole, and the observations I’ve gathered by participating in this national conversation.
Ultimately, I find myself asking: what type of country do we live in that we can no longer express our own political thoughts without fear of being attacked? The trolling is abound on social media platforms and minimal respect seems to exist between the political parties and their followers. Free speech is continuing to be threatened in an uncanny way – without directly shutting dissenters down, we are scared into corners. This is most notably clear with Trump’s tweet threating to remove federal funds from UC Berkeley:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
From a journalistic standpoint, this is a concern. When we try to express our “different points of view” that stands apart from Trump and his followers, we are threatened. Even though there was an outpouring of peaceful protests at UC Berkeley last week before it turned violent, we are shamed. When we speak out, in person or online, we are threatened. And this leaves me, as a writer and an employee in the communications industry, to grow more afraid to express my own opinion. That’s not the country we should be living in.
With that, it’s important to know that there are people in our community – in San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, in our surrounding Bay Area – that are fighting for the values we know and love, the same that so many of the companies that thrive here are built on. Take Trump’s immigration ban, for example: Google employees walked out to protest it, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos spoke out against it, and more than 120 businesses filed an Amicus brief this past weekend condemning it. Prior to that, companies took a stand against the Muslim registry Trump suggested by signing the Never Again pledge, filled with names from tech giants including Google, Venmo, Alphabet, Microsoft, Github and more. As Trump continues to take action, we can only hope that they will continue to fight. And we will fight, too.