I go to Berkeley now, which means I have an unfathomable amount of work to be doing but I thought this was more important. As I write, I can hear the monotonous whirring of helicopters above me and it is so bloody annoying. But, do you know what is even more frustrating? The violence I saw at UC Berkeley earlier this evening. I’m going to tell you what happened from a student’s perspective. From an honest and real perspective.
Today, at about 6pm, well over 1000 students and members of the public gathered in Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley to protest the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos. He was due to give a speech after being approached by the UC Berkeley Republicans but after violent actions he was forced to leave; this comes straight off the bat of his unwanted presence at another UC campus earlier this month. He’s a pretty controversial guy but what I saw this evening does not justify that in any way.
You’d think only being here three weeks, it would have been surprising to see a protest of this size in the middle of campus but think again! I am living in the heart of where the free speech movement began in the 60s. I have seen more protests here in the last three weeks than I have in the last three years in London. It started off as a peaceful protest with a few witty signs but as it turned dark, this was mirrored by a group of masked, darkly clothed strangers who entered the crowd and caused havoc. They removed all the barricades that had been set up earlier that day and used them to smash the windows of the ground floor of the building where Yiannopoulos was. They set off smoke bombs and aimed fireworks at the police who were located on a balcony. It was only when a fire started that we felt it was time to leave. Police were firing rubber bullets and despite news reports and over dramatic protestors, tear gas was not used. It was still scary, a man was bleeding after having a brick thrown at his face.
Predictably, there are already a few sensationalised news stories floating about. I found this image from BBC news particularly impressive:
I don’t know what angle this was taken at but the fire was the equivalent to a small bonfire that your enthusiastic uncle sets up in your garden on Fireworks Night. Here’s a more accurate, REAL photo:
What I don’t understand is that even when Yiannopoulos left, the violence spread and worsened. The masked individuals went to the streets. ATMS were smashed, banks were attacked with all the windows smashed and even a Starbucks was looted. Why? Why? Why?
These masked individuals have been linked to an anarchical group from Oakland called Black Block but no one can be sure as to their identity. Whether or not Berkeley students were involved in the violence, there was still mass cheering and celebration when windows were broken, police targeted and fires started. People were taking selfies in front of the fire for their Instagram. And although BBC would like to present this photo as a GREAT FIRE or BLAZE the only ‘blazing’ going on were from the guys behind me getting high. Sorry but what? Is a protest just another recreational activity now? People are stupid. They took this as an event of self-indulgence, whether this be simply to have fun or make themselves feel as if they were ‘making a difference’. We seem to think that because we go to prestigious universities that we are exempt from irrational behaviour when in fact, university students are more disconnected from the real world than ever. Protests have turned into a fashion. People revel in the theatrics of protest. It saddens me because I know that the majority of students will agree with me in condemning the violence of this evening but we will be forever branded as raging hypocritical liberals who do not practise what they preach.
The problem is, especially after this evening, I’m finding it more and more difficult to defend this view. I cannot tell you how many people I have spoken to here, who just want to live in their liberal bubble. People keep telling me that there is a difference between free speech and hate speech but they are one and the same. There may be bad people in the world but tough shit, there are horrible things in the world and you denying that is ignorant. This protest is exactly what Yiannopoulos wanted. Your redundant and violent protests are affirming the radical right’s views of the left. It pains me to say that when Yiannopoulos said tonight’s behaviour was ‘a horrible spectacle and very humiliating for American higher education,’ I can’t help but agree. I wonder how much support he would gain if you simply left him alone. You are fuelling the fire for his ridiculous views and giving him validity he doesn’t deserve. I’m fed up of my fellow students continuously denying that the right exists whilst burying their head in the sand. It is not enough to hold up a cardboard sign every once in a while to make yourself feel better. Engage with the other side in actual debate and then maybe something will change.
I understand that protests are a sure fire way of showing solidarity and you have every right to that, but burning a mobile light or to graffiti on an ice cream shop the words ‘kill fascists’ whilst documenting it all on Facebook live feed for the ‘likes’ is not what your ancestors had in mind when they were protesting for the free speech movement. To all those who went out and destroyed buildings or even stood back and cheered, you have marked yourself as idiots and brought shame upon your accomplished past.