I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you an important piece that was co-authored by Liberty Tree’s newest Fellow – Meleiza Figueroa. Mel worked as the Press Director for the Stein/Baraka 2016 Presidential campaign and is Executive Producer of the Green News Network. In the past she has worked on many projects in the areas of media and community democracy including Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Price as the lead researcher and as a staff producer with Pacifica Radio. With Liberty Tree, she will continue her work as co-facilitator of the Movement School for Revolutionaries with David Cobb – a project I look forward to sharing with you in the coming days.
Mel is also a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley where she is an active member of the Campus Antifascist Network. Her work below is part of an ongoing effort to help understand the current moment that requires nothing less than constant resistance to fascism and outright rejection of white supremacist violence. As headlines sensationalize reports and falsely characterize the actions of activists and organizers dedicated to community protection, it is important to lift up and share the work of those willing and able to defend their bravery as well as make clear the history, character and intent of these groups across the political spectrum. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety and share widely.
Timeka Drew – National Director, Liberty Tree Foundation
Why Berkeley’s Battle Against White Supremacy Is Not About Free Speech
by Meleiza Figueroa and David Palumbo-Liu
Outrage at the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville and wanton attacks on peaceful students, clergy, and people of color at the hands of white supremacists kicked off nationwide protests against racist violence, which led to the cancellation of dozens of right-wing rallies and the fall of Confederate monuments from Durham to San Diego. There is much hope in the undeniable public support to resist the so-called alt-right. Yet confrontations at the University of California, Berkeley, have polarized activists on how best to oppose these movements of hate and bigotry.
On August 27, several thousand Bay Area students, teachers, and community members attended the “Rally Against Hate,” which was organized by an unprecedented coalition of over 100 campus, labor, interfaith, community justice, and socialist/anarchist groups. Despite the mostly peaceful character of the demonstration, the media focused overwhelmingly on a few instances of violent skirmishes, painting Berkeley as a hotbed of far-left extremism.
This emphasis plays into the hands of the far right by creating a public backlash against antifascist and social-justice movements. Within two weeks of Charlottesville, widespread revulsion at the images of torch-wielding white supremacists faded into a quagmire of moralistic debates about fighting Nazis. At best, Berkeley’s antifascist militancy is regarded by liberal pundits as a useful foil for the far right; at worst, it’s depicted as equivalent to fascists who, from Dylann Roof to James Alex Fields, have proven capable of cold-blooded murder.
It is absolutely crucial to understand what is going on in Berkeley—not only because of how the coverage of protests has been used to shift public opinion on antifascist actions, but also because the sequence of events from Berkeley to Charlottesville dramatically illustrates why this battle is emphatically not about free speech. This is about the ability to shape consensus in a time of rising mass anxiety and political extremism. The “power of framing,” as linguist George Lakoff puts it, is everything.
It is not antifascist resistance but the uncritical acceptance of manipulative framing by those who should know better that puts Berkeley and other campus communities at risk. If the specter of “antifa” becomes an excuse to justify the use of repression through state or extrajudicial means, then no college campus, marginalized community, or organized social movement of the left is safe from attacks from the alt-right and its fake-news machine.
The clashes between the alt-right and antifascist protesters at Berkeley cannot be taken out of the context of the climate of terror that has been brewing since white-nationalist and Nazi flyers began to appear at over 100 college campuses across the country after the election of Donald Trump.
A letter circulated to Berkeley faculty by student activists in the wake of the dramatic shutdown of Milo Yiannopoulos’s speaking event on February 1 reveals the extent of the intimidation campaign waged against the campus community and the failure of administrators to address safety concerns. Berkeley students had seen the rise of white-nationalist recruitment on campus and witnessed the tactics employed by Yiannopoulos and his followers surrounding the shutdown of an event at UC Davis—which included violent provocation, stalking, manipulative lies in the press, and a perverse reenactment of the incident when Occupy student protesters were pepper-sprayed by police in 2011. With this in mind, students began writing letters to campus administration, faculty, and media voicing their opposition to the Berkeley event. In retaliation, far-right trolls sent intimidating messages and death threats. Students were doxxed (their personal information hacked and revealed on message boards) and stalked by alt-right activists who followed them on and off campus. Incidents were reported to top campus and UC administrators to no avail. …
Liberty Tree Foundation