Letter to the Editor | Freedom to hate and freedom to love

Leftist Collective Executives, Guest Columnist

June 16th, 1918: Hundreds gathered in Canton, Ohio, to hear a man speak. Just six years before, this man was a presidential candidate, receiving over nine hundred thousand votes. He came to Ohio to declare that “if war is right let it be declared by the people” and to bring attention to the war profiteers and business interests that drew the United States into World War I.

October 13th, 1964: For several weeks, a debate had been raging in the pages of The Michigan Daily after a man was invited to give a speech on the campus of The University of Michigan. He called for the audience to investigate the facts he provided before accusing Jewish people of controlling the media, claiming discussion of “the Jewish problem” is the one thing that is not protected by freedom of speech, and proselytizing for the American Nazi Party.

That man in Canton, Ohio was Eugene Debs, the founder of the Socialist Party of America. In the audience that day were agents from the Department of Justice. On June 30th, Debs was arrested and charged under the Sedition Act of 1918 with attempting to obstruct recruitment for the war effort. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for the crime of giving a speech.

The man at The University of Michigan that day was George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, who had called for “hundreds of thousands of Jewish traitors” to be sent to gas chambers for supposed communist sympathies. His speech was met with boos as well as cheers and laughter, but there were no Department of Justice agents in the audience. Rockwell continued to tour the country giving speeches until he was murdered by a fellow Nazi in 1967.

It is impossible for a socialist to think about freedom of speech without thinking about how America has trampled over it in the past. Debs’ conviction for speaking against the war effort was appealed to the Supreme Court, where despite the obvious conflict with the First Amendment, it was found to be constitutional. The Communist Control Act of 1954, which makes it illegal to be a member of a Communist party, has still not been fully repealed or found to be unconstitutional, though it blatantly is.

It is this thorny history that must be considered when discussing how, or if, freedom of speech should be balanced with the interests of the public. But what is happening here and now, at The University of Alabama, is not a question about whether Matt Walsh should have freedom of speech.

The University of Alabama itself has more than endorsed Walsh through its actions. More than  $7,100 of the cost of Matt Walsh’s event will be doled out from the University’s coffers. North Lawn Hall’s doors have been opened to him and it would not be surprising for a red carpet to be laid out for his arrival on Oct. 27.

Matt Walsh has no true educational importance that makes him deserving of such a treatment. He has not been elected to or held any public office, nor published any noteworthy academic works. What shreds of intellectual import he may offer to UA students come entirely from his work as a political provocateur.

And what a body of work Mr. Walsh has amassed. He has:

This does not even begin to mention the absolutely repugnant hatred which he holds towards transgender people. After directing his followers’ ire at Boston Children’s Hospital for days, due to their offering of gender-affirming care, a bomb threat was called in. After this threat was made, he promptly began saying he was skeptical that such a threat had ever happened.

Walsh has called gender ideology “one of the greatest evils in human history,” and called LGBTQ Americans and those who support their rights groomers, “child abusers”, “poison” and “predators”. This level of anti-trans bigotry from public figures on the right should be recognized as one of the factors in the recent, horrifying increase in the number of murders of transgender Americans.

This is most definitely not the first time that alt-right figures have sought to use freedom of speech and college campuses to spread hatred. It is not even the first time this has happened at The University of Alabama recently. It must be recognized that, at least ever since Rockwell, far-right bigots have seen the benefits of spreading their venom under the guise of freedom of speech.

The University of Alabama must recognize its responsibility to its marginalized students and how welcoming a speaker with such abhorrent views and actions is directly in opposition to its professed core value of a “campus life that embodies collaboration, collegiality, respect and a culture of inclusivity.”

To repeal his invitation — to put away his red carpet — would not be an infringement of Walsh’s freedom of speech, but rather a defense of the rights and humanity of The University of Alabama’s students. Freedom of speech, the ability to speak against those in power, is essential to a proper democracy, but giving money and a platform to a vicious hatemonger is not.

Speaking to the judge on the day he was convicted for actually speaking truth to power, Debs said “that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free”

It is the task of every feeling heart to recognize the humanity of the downtrodden and the oppressed and to work for their liberation. As such, the students at The University of Alabama must see the necessity of solidarity and support their transgender and queer peers in the face of bigotry.

Editor’s Note: Joseph Hoffman, news writer for The CW and vice-president of the Leftist Collective, recused himself from the writing and publishing of this column.

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