Milo Yiannopoulos and others like him who’ve dubbed themselves the “alt-right” don’t deserve your protest. “Alt-right” is just a euphemism for white-supremacist, anti-feminist, anti-Islam, anti-Black Lives Matter, extreme-right posturing and all-things-hate that makes it seem legitimate enough to gain foothold on a platform. Your protest is an opportunity to make your voice heard, but it is only that. It does not serve to raise awareness of how twisted the alt-right is. Knowledge of their warped perspective and divisive plans already exists. It won’t stop them from spewing hate, nor will it stop organizations like Berkeley College Republicans from offering them a venue in which they can share their views with other small-minded bigots. (Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak at the Pauley Ballroom on Feb. 1.)
Think of Yiannopoulos not as a journalist or political commentator, but an entertainer. And liberal outrage is a vital part of his theater. Loud protesters only feed his appetite for attention and validate his supporters’ claims that protestors and complaints against his events are attempting to suppress their right to free speech. In fact, the Berkeley College Republicans have taken to calling themselves “The New Free Speech Movement.” They even use an image from a November 1964 free speech march at Berkeley campus as the cover photo on their Facebook page. Don’t be complicit in this. Don’t take the bait. Let them have their free speech, but don’t let them have the theater. Don’t make them believe that they’re martyrs. Don’t create an environment that draws media attention to the charged, ugly, and sensational battles between liberals and the alt-right. All this does is serve to portray them as victims. Even the so-called progressive media is guilty of offering these hate-mongers free airtime to make their messages heard—a platform to assist in normalizing them and their beliefs.
Protests for events such as Yiannopolous’ don’t have the same impact as they did 50 years ago. Consider these alternatives if you plan to protest or if you simply want to DO SOMETHING:
- Buy as many tickets as you can to these events. Then and don’t show up. Tell your friends and family to do the same. Let alt-right speakers know they can speak where they please, but that doesn’t make them welcome. Let them speak to empty seats. Yiannopoulos’ event in Berkeley is sold out, but there’s no shortage of speeches he and the others like him will make in an effort to spread their vile messages among the public and gain new converts.
- Support the ACLU. We need them now. We need them to be funded and with full resources so they can prepare for the battles ahead and continue to fight the current ones. They’ve agreed to set up a table at Upper Sproul Plaza during the Feb. 1st event so that people looking to take some sort of action can choose to do something with lasting impact, such as sign up to fight alongside them.
- Find your pain point and work on it. If you’ve read this far you’re probably a concerned citizen. There is so much at stake right now, pick an issue that boils your blood and put your heart and soul into fixing it. For example, if you’re concerned about the GOP’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood, form a group to support them monetarily, as a volunteer, or by an awareness campaign to help spread the truth about ALL of the services they provide to EVERYONE. Pledge to make sure Americans know that they are not an abortion drive-thru.
- Get strategic and tactical. Phone calls and in-person visits from constituents to legislators outweigh social media venting and emails. They are hard for legislative staff to ignore if they come in large volume. If you don’t reach a lawmaker, staff members typically pass the message along depending on how many calls are made and how you present your story. Also, don’t just contact your representatives in Congress, contact officials at the local and state level, too. And take advantage of tools others have used successfully such as the site We are the 65.
- Become an internet troll. I often see posts on news articles or influential people’s communications from right-wingers expounding their beliefs. Start inserting yourself into these ugly and uncomfortable conversations. When they spread fake news, share facts from real resources. When they share fake data, share real data. But don’t do it in a combative matter. Join conversations. Take the time to present counter-arguments in a manner that’s non-offensive. It’s useless to offend. It doesn’t help you make your case or win anyone over.
- And, talk to people–not just from behind the safe shield of your computer screen. Take inventory of the people you know with beliefs that are aligned with yours. Are there many of them? If so, expand your contacts. It takes time and patience, but when was the last time you had a real conversation about why you believe what you do with someone of an opposing opinion? Even if you can’t bring them to your side, your perspective on a particular issue may resonate and make them think twice about their preconceived beliefs about Hillary, Bernie or Jill Stein supporters and some of the same issues we all face.
- Basically, become a citizen activist. If you’re not sure how to go about this, do some research and join an organization like The Ella Baker Center, Center for Media Justice, and your local ACLU chapter. Help them move their work forward. Follow individuals like Shaun King, Robert Reich, and Van Jones who are out there fighting and have plans in motion. Get with their plans and become one of their foot soldiers.
The point is, you can do some much better than a protest. Instead of protesting and joining the alt-right theater, turn your anger into action on Feb. 1 and choose to do any one of these things. And if you have better ideas, make a point of pulling people together to share and act on them. Do something, anything, but don’t take the right-wing bait.
Jennifer Davis is a native East Bay resident who works three jobs: mom, digital marketer, and social justice activist.