I was a little kid during the McCarthy Era. It was a time of Loyalty Oaths and Blacklists. A time when anyone dissenting from the Corporate America Propaganda Party Line could find themselves called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and forced to testify. People found themselves unemployable due to their political views.
As I said I was just a kid but I remember how people spoke about those Loyalty Oaths and “Communist Subversion”, a label as easily applied to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the people organizing the Black Civil rights Movement as it could to actual members of the Communist Party USA.
When I was a teenager I was a proto-hippie folk music fan. As a folkie I learned about the hearings and the blacklist which included Pete Seeger, the Weavers and Paul Robeson.
When I was a senior in high school the students at the University of California: Berkeley engaged in the strikes that became known as the “Free Speech Movement”
Mario Savio: Speaking on the steps of Sproul Hall, on December 2, 1964:
We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the regents in his telephone conversation, why didn’t he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received, from a well-meaning liberal, was the following: He said, ‘Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?’ That’s the answer!
Well, I ask you to consider: If this is a firm, and if the board of regents are the board of directors; and if President Kerr in fact is the manager; then I’ll tell you something. The faculty are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw materials that don’t mean to be—have any process upon us. Don’t mean to be made into any product. Don’t mean… Don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
Pretty damned moving stuff, don’t you think?
I did and so did a whole lot of other kids my age. We spent the next few years marching in the streets, putting our bodies against the gears and wheels trying to shut the machine down. Fighting for freedom and dignity, the right of free speech, trying to end a war we saw as morally wrong.
Along the line we gave birth to quite a few movements that still live. The LGBT Movement, the Women’s movement and the Environmental Movements to name a few.
The Corporate and Political Establishments still beat up on us, lie about us and scapegoat us even though most of us went off to live our own lives and tend our own gardens once we realized the powers that be were going to destroy us, kill us, send us to prisons or otherwise totally mess with our lives.
Over the years academics and professional activists turned movements into careers and income streams, became just like lobbyists for corporations. The people got divided up into identity political factions. Each and everyone in it for themselves and seeing their particular issues as being more important than everyone else. We had the rise of word games and one-up-manship cause nasty wars and trashings over nothing of any import.
All of which served to put the Republicans and hard right in power and keep them there for much of the last 35 years.
I fought for Free Speech fifty years ago. I’ll be damned if I will cave into those who wish to silence Free Speech today. Yes I find some free speech hateful and disgusting.
Others find my exercise of the Freedom to say what I think equally hateful and disgusting. Such is the price of Freedom.
By Wendy Kaminer
February 20, 2015
Wendy Kaminer is the author of eight books, including “A Fearful Freedom: Women’s Flight From Equality.”
Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”
No one on this panel, in which I participated, trafficked in slurs. So what prompted the warning?
Smith President Kathleen McCartney had joked, “We’re just wild and crazy, aren’t we?” In the transcript, “crazy” was replaced by the notation: “[ableist slur].”
One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”
I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.
Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.
Unsafe? These days, when students talk about threats to their safety and demand access to “safe spaces,” they’re often talking about the threat of unwelcome speech and demanding protection from the emotional disturbances sparked by unsettling ideas. It’s not just rape that some women on campus fear: It’s discussions of rape. At Brown University, a scheduled debate between two feminists about rape culture was criticized for, as the Brown Daily Herald put it, undermining “the University’s mission to create a safe and supportive environment for survivors.” In a school-wide e-mail, Brown President Christina Paxon emphasized her belief in the existence of rape culture and invited students to an alternative lecture, to be given at the same time as the debate. And the Daily Herald reported that students who feared being “attacked by the viewpoints” offered at the debate could instead “find a safe space” among “sexual assault peer educators, women peer counselors and staff” during the same time slot. Presumably they all shared the same viewpoints and could be trusted not to “attack” anyone with their ideas.
Bilerico Project: Free Speech for Me; ‘Shut-Up-and-Take-It’ for You