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.