Criticizing people who show up wrapped in homemade armor and equipped with improvised weapons to “defend” you from alt-right rallies will fill your mailbox with outraged messages about how ungrateful you are. They’re defending us, we’re told, from racism, from sexism, from exposure to right-wing views the expression of which will surely make us wither and die. We should be thanking them, we’re told, for their bravery. Otherwise a long parade of conservatives, or perhaps right-wing provocateurs, will come to our university town and…speak.

I want to reassure all these self-appointed civic defenders dressed up like the Unibomber that we’re good. We got this. We don’t need defending from provocative speech, or racist speech, or sexist speech. We’ve heard it all our lives. Maybe there’s a mean-spirited group out there hoping to bankrupt our decidedly liberal town, hoping we “clutch our pearls” and have a riot every time we hear a different point of view. But most of us are not that person. Most of us have heard racist, sexist speech all our lives and know how to handle it.

First: let people speak. Cultivating the patience it requires to allow even an offensive perspective will be a better shield than any plastic trash can lid, and more useful than anything you can re-purpose from Home Depot. If you don’t want to hear it, or don’t know how to respond, you can always walk away, which is the first rule of self defense.

Most of us aren’t hearing anything we haven’t heard or read before. We’re not only up to hearing it, we’re pretty good at responding. We’re a university town where even odious ideas find an occasional harbor. And that’s okay. It may seem old-fashioned, but the First Amendment still has a lot of fans.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.

Carol Denney is a Berkeley activist and musician.

Thanks, But No Thanks 13 September,2017Amanda Font

  • pjkrupka

    A fine cogent statement on the matter. Thank you Carol!

  • MFreed

    As white women, we have the privilege to ignore white supremacists if we choose and claim that their words do no damage, because they do not damage us. But we have an obligation to remove their platform and give their ideas no safe harbor, as they advocate for people of color to be systematically subjugated. It may seem counterintuitive, but in order to create a civil society, we cannot tolerate intolerance.

    • Curious

      ^ Irony alert.

    • Carol Denney

      We as private individuals have no such obligation (to “remove their platform”); we have a choice, unlike the University of California and the City of Berkeley both of which are obligated under the Constitution to allow all speakers without crafting unconstitutional content-based restrictions. And you might consider listening to your political opponents. I travel extensively in “red” states, and have never been baited, berated, or beaten for my unique perspectives. My political commentary is better for knowing how other people think, and what arguments they use.

      • AR in SF

        “I travel extensively in “red” states, and have never been baited, berated, or beaten for my unique perspectives.”

        Thanks for the laugh, Carol.

        I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, even though you were not careful enough to distinguish between speech and violence, but it is clear you’re a fellow traveler in the Arlie R. Hochschild clown car. Something in the water in Berkeley?

        • Carol Denney

          I’m not sure why you find that funny. In Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, and West Virginia I’ve found it easy to talk to people about politics, religion, anything. There is a deep culture of courtesy in those states which I hope you get the chance to experience someday. I wish you weren’t so afraid of letting others speak. Ben Shapiro, for instance. What in the world were you afraid he would say?

          • AR in SF

            I found that funny (read: ridiculous) because I could not believe a grown woman could be so obtuse. Like me, a grown man, setting a woman straight: “I’ve been walking the streets of SF for twenty years, and never once have I been catcalled by my fellow man—why, men have always been respectlful of my space. You girls need to chill out, learn to appreciate men in all their wonderful complexity, instead of whining about them all the time. Can’t you see they mean well?” And, when one of these men assaults a woman, lecturing her: “Stop licking your wounds. He’s probably hurting real bad. Empathize! Try to understand what’s going on with him, or we’ll never be able to move forward as a community.”

            Drop the clueless condescension if you care to be taken seriously, especially by those who do not share your life experience.

            There are good people everywhere. I reserve my respect for those, anywhere, who have the moral clarity to call out bigotry when they witness it. Apologists for bigots belong in the dung-heap of history.

            I share Harry Hamburgers’ opinion above re: the lesser lights of the right. His lack of sanctimony was a bonus.

          • Carol Denney

            I call out bigotry relentlessly. But you’ll never know where it exists unless you allow it to speak. And I agree that your hypothetical setting is ridiculous. But it has no relevance to (again) the Constitutional obligation of the University, or a city, to issue permits and accommodate speakers without content-based restrictions. And see if you can discipline yourself enough to refrain from name-calling. It is the best exercise.

          • AR in SF

            Are you for real? I could not care less if these bigots bleed Berkeley dry with repeat visits to the end of time, but can you quit with the self-serious pretense that the Forgotten Man will be silenced if BS or whomever does not get to speak? Every one of these clowns has a megaphone in every medium imaginable. Also, “The white guy didn’t get heard!” — said no one, ever. The degree of special pleading on white people’s behalf, on steroids since last November, is grotesque.

            Name-calling when it is deserved is a moral obligation. The vast majority of your kind put the carnival barker in the White House. 7% of my kind did. I’d spend more time cleaning my white house, if I were you, instead of lecturing me on do’s and don’ts.

          • Carol Denney

            That is so sad. I, along with most people in our town, care deeply about trying to orient the University of California’s budget toward making sure as many people as possible get the benefit of a university education. The money spent so far on making sure yo-yos dressed up like the Unibomber don’t clobber people based upon their speech or attire would cover a full university education for a couple dozen people so far.

            You may not realize it, but your “shut speech down” strategy not only has no future, since the Constitution has even right-wing fans, but it works hand in hand with the right-wing groups sponsoring the right-wing campus clubs hoping to drain UC’s resources. And the First Amendment, as a right, does not benefit one group only, but everyone. Thanks for revealing yourself as (perhaps) an unwitting pawn of the right-wing, which is enlisting people who don’t recognize what they are doing by disallowing others’ speech as, ahem, fascism.

          • AR in SF

            Reading comprehension is not your strong suit, eh?

            Easier to spout off sanctimoniously, while knocking down straw men, I suppose.

            Suit yourself. I’m done saying my piece.

  • Susan

    Excellent! Thank you Carol for your and my thoughts.

  • Derek Polka

    “…you can always walk away” – the most privileged statement ever uttered. This is ridiculous and completely tone-deaf.

  • Rob Gayle

    Carol, your perspective deserves wide hearing as a reminder of a foundational principle, especially given the anticipated visits to Berkeley by Dan Shapiro, et al.

  • DBritt

    Thank you! I’ve had enough of these violent groups acting as a megaphone for the far right by “deplatforming” them. When your deplatforming causes the event to be covered in the nightly news nationwide you really have to question what you’re doing. The right way to deal with odious ideas is to focus not on the people who are speaking (who are desperate for attention), but on those who may be listening.

  • Mike Williams

    Hear, Hear Ms. Denny! As a recently retired Berkeley public school teacher I’ve been appalled at how many adults I know (including educators) don’t seem to understand that the first amendment was included in the U.S. Constitution specifically to protect UNPOPULAR SPEECH! Speech that we all agree with needs no protection. I’m in the camp of Evelyn Beatrice Hall who stated, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” How one can argue that we should not tolerate intolerance is beyond me. Are not those who would not allow some to speak because they disagree with the content of that speech themselves intolerant? And how can we even know what was going to be said if they are not allowed to speak? This seems to be a slippery slope where a certain group of people get to decide who can speak and what they can say.

    • Derek Polka

      So you’re arguing we should not only tolerate, but defend white supremacists? It’s pretty easy to find his opinions online, and to refute them, he doesn’t need another public platform to spread his ignorance.

      • Michael Williams

        Defend white supremacists? Did I say that? Hmmmm . . . No I didn’t so please don’t put words in my mouth. I think white supremacists are abhorrent but I don’t support taking away their first amendment rights. Their ideas will lose out in the marketplace of ideas. When Nazis wanted to organize a march in Skokie, Illinois in the 1970s, the ACLU (including many jewish attorneys), supported their right to do so in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. You don’t want to hear what these groups want to say? Don’t listen! But I would also argue that keeping them from exercising their first amendment rights does not serve any productive purpose. The white supremacists get to look like victims in the media and those who use violence and intimidation to keep them from speaking come across as fascists who seemingly get to decide who can and cannot speak their mind in the public forum. To me, that’s a frightening notion.

  • Harry Hamburgers

    You don’t have to be white or a woman to agree with this Perspective.

  • No Thanks

    I’m going to say “no thanks” to your perspective, Carol. As I was listening I was thinking is this a person of color? A Jewish person? An LGBT person? No, they’re not. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you are the white, Christian (at least in background), woman I think you are, then I don’t really care what you have to say about the antifa. Try to have some compassion or perspective for the people who can’t just turn a blind eye or ear to the hatred being spewed. Swastikas and taunts about killing Jews, in my situation, isn’t something I can just ignore, or something I want to just ignore. This hate speech conjures real feelings of fear and vulnerability. I by no means speak for all of those who are a target of this hate speech, but for me, I’m glad there are people out there willing to shut this speech down. These cries of “free speech” reek of white privilege to me.

    • Harry Hamburgers

      I am not white and grew up a minority, with dark skin. I’ve experienced racism and have opportunties lost because of my name. Yet, I agree with what Carol has said. There is a time to listen, there is a time to talk, and there is a time to walk. If it comes to physical acts, then I say, “Yes, stand up and fight back.” Until then, let them talk, and people will see them for who they are.

      • No Thanks

        When they start perpetrating physical acts it will be too late. Personally, I’m not willing to wait for that time. Hate speech is where I draw the line, and where I believe the line should be drawn for everyone.

    • DBritt

      How do you feel about the fact that the people “shutting this speech down” manage to give every right wing speaker who visits Berkeley a full national spotlight for a day?

      • Carol Denney

        I feel fine about it.

    • Carol Denney

      You’re free to personally avoid people with whom you disagree, but the University of California and the City of Berkeley are obligated under the law and the constitution to allow all perspectives without content-based restrictions. “Shutting down” others’ speech plays into right-wing strategy and is costing our community $100,000 to $600,000 per speaker. Allowing others to speak is not “turning a blind eye”; we can all take a very active role, as I do, in responding in more creative ways.

  • Jane Quiring

    Sing it sister! Among adults, even odious speech should be free. You’re right–we’ve got this.

  • CCall

    Carol, when I heard your perspective this morning driving to work, it actually brought tears to my eyes. It was the most articulate, refreshing, rationale opinion I’ve heard in a long time, and it reminded me of something I know but I sometimes forget… how important it is to check myself and be tolerant of others. I often don’t agree with opinions I hear, or how people behave or express themselves, but I do know that it’s far more dangerous to censor people than it is to tolerate them.

  • Gabriel Lampert


  • He’e Nalu

    I’ll give Carol the benefit of the doubt and assume that she simply hasn’t had the opportunity to inform herself about the white nationalist aspirations, associations, and organizing goals of the alt-right movement, and what that means materially to individuals and groups who are impacted. This movement has already gone far beyond “offensive speech.” The broad anti-fascist movement that she misrepresents and maligns in her piece is not concerned with our opponents “speech,” but with their goals and actions, which have already manifested in deadly violence. That being said, I wonder what Carol would have to say if everyone on campus, students and workers, went on strike during “free speech week,” rendering the university inoperable, and effectively shutting down the lecture halls. Would she support such a concerted action?

    • Long

      As for students, they of cause can “walk away” like Carol suggested.

      As for workers, no, they can not. They are government employees and they have duties to provide the facility for its intended purposes.

      Even if the university is rendered into inoperable, it is a price of free speech. UCB has said that we should respond any speech with more speeches. If you don’t agree with somebody’s opinions, make your own speech. Don’t confront at the moment and create situations for violent behaviors.

      As for the anti-fascist or alt-right groups, I am fine with whatever they have to say. But, first, they don’t represent any entire ethnic group. Second, I just wish they don’t end up into violence even though the protects are intended to be peaceful. The violence from the intended peaceful marches has done just the opposite.

      I think some people might think, if we don’t protect, we might leave an appearance that we actually agree with it. How do you deal with various religions? Are you going to protect outside every churches, mosques and temples?

      • Carol Denney

        Nobody thinks that. Allowing someone else to speak is simply that; a respect for their rights and the First Amendment.

    • Carol Denney

      What I support is the First Amendment, which allows even white nationalist groups the right to speak, and specifically disallows the government from interfering with that right. I’m so surprised, as are most people, that this is considered radical.

  • Carol Denney

    I’ve done plenty of direct action, and worked extensively in communities of color in this state and others. The alt-right is coming to Berkeley hoping for an over-reaction to show that they are the aggrieved party, the censored group. Don’t be baited into giving them what they want. Those who crafted the First Amendment know that if you suppress something, you make it stronger.

  • Carol Denney

    You sidestep the point, Robin; the University of California (and the City of Berkeley) is obligated under the law to accommodate a full spectrum of speakers as selected by the clubs on campus. They are not choosing these speakers, nor are they entitled to disallow them under the Constitution (“Congress shall make no law…” etc.). Ben Shapiro, our most recent speaker, was not here to kill anybody. He’s just a kind of boring conservative. He spoke. He spoke last year on the UC campus too, without much opposition or fanfare. Again, we can handle this. I’ve spoken myself on the UC Berkeley campus at various fora and workshops, I’ve been an employee, and was once a student. It just isn’t that big a deal to have a variety of speakers, some of whom represent exotic, even absurd points of view. It’s okay. It’s part of campus life, and you’re free to protest if you want to. I am a free speech absolutist, one of Free Radio Berkeley’s original pioneers, but Congress can of course make laws governing how much the tobacco industry can lie to children and restrict advertising in certain settings, like schools. These two things are not in the least contradictory.

    • Robin Banks

      Thank you for responding to me. If I am reading your post correctly, your points are as follows:

      1) The First Amendment demands both the city of Berkeley and the UC to be content-neutral in their permitting of speakers.


      2) UC Berkeley as an institution and greater university community is equipped deal with speakers of any ideological stripe, even the most morally repugnant ones, and allowing these groups to speak freely and leave is both a strategic and tactical better option to combat their ideology than the antfa approach of platform denial.

      I want to respond to you, but feel we may be typing at cross purposes so please confirm or clarify your points as I’ve summarized.

      • Carol Denney

        Again, student clubs with well-funded alt-right backers are choosing these speakers, which colleges and universities have an obligation to accommodate fairly: “Circuit courts have ruled that college campuses are – unlike, say, a
        public park or street – “limited public forums,” according to the First
        Amendment Center. That’s why universities can create rules and
        restrictions governing such speakers, like when and where they may
        speak. However, these rules must be applied fairly and have nothing to
        do with the speakers or their speech content.” I hope this is helpful for you.

        • Robin Banks

          I question whether or not you read my original response to your comment, because your line of posts has read like a response to an argument calling for the governmental censorship of hate groups and platform denial through legalism, which is an argument I did not make. Antifa are not seeking a constitutional amendment modifying 1A protections nor are they looking to have local municipalities try and pass content-specific assembly laws, both as you rightly point out due to futility vis a vis the strength of 1A and because antifa understand that content specific governmental regulation of speech is just as likely to impact the left as it is the right, if not more so.

          There is little historical evidence that shows fascists withering and dying in classical liberal settings. Indeed, they use the cover of the “marketplace of ideas” to build an audience and seize power not by storming the gates, but by being invited to do so by the government. This is how Hitler did it; this is how Mussolini did it. You repeatedly make mention of Berkeley’s capacity to “take” fascism as though it dissipates into the aether after each rally. (It does not, and if you want evidence of the fact that even mighty Berkeley is changed by this fascist presence, start with the former employee of Top Dogs who was doxxed at Charlottesville) But suppose your fundamental point is sound; Berkeley can indeed “take” an endless parade of provocateurs, for now. What happens when they cannot? This speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding you have about both fascists and antifa. You fight fascists with words and letters so you don’t have to fight them with fists, you fight them with fists so you don’t have to fight them with knives, you fight them with knives so you don’t have to fight them with guns, you fight them with guns so you don’t have to fight them with tanks.

          • Carol Denney

            Well, again, the “government” didn’t invite Ben Shapiro. And I don’t know whether he qualifies as your idea of a fascist, but he’s a conservative, anyway, and the sky didn’t fall when he spoke. We’ll survive Coulter, and Bannon, too. You seem to have a very low opinion of people’s ability to survive a right-wing provocateur. The Berkeley students are pretty smart.

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