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OPINION: Why Protesting is Not as Simple as it Seems

By Neil Heriot | May 1, 2023

Protestors protesting Ian Haworth’s speech on April 4, 2023.

Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / the ASP

If you have been paying attention to campus news recently, you will undoubtedly have heard about the recent protests and controversy that occurred at the University at Albany. Here, I’ll speak specifically about protestors who stopped conservative speaker Ian Haworth from speaking to an audience of members of the conservative college organization Turning Point USA (TPUSA). The ASP has already covered this in-depth – better than I ever could – so I would strongly suggest that you read the ASP’s news coverage before reading this opinion in order to have a better understanding of what happened if you need clarification and/or context. But I’ll still give a simple (if worse) explanation that should suffice for what I will be trying to say later.

The first controversy, which I will call the TPUSA controversy, started when TPUSA invited a conservative speaker named Ian Haworth to speak to an audience on the topic of free speech. Due to allegations that Mr. Haworth is transphobic, or having a strong dislike of transgender people, protestors gathered to organize a counter event. What happened promptly was that the speech by Mr. Haworth ended up being disrupted due to the protests, despite attempts by UPD to relocate the event.

Here, there was a conservative gathering to talk about/bring attention to a conservative talking point that the opposition to these gatherings responded to by holding a concurrent counter event. However, the opposition to TPUSA and Mr. Haworth made themselves look like fools and damaged the cause they wished to support. And this is not strictly limited to UAlbany. All across college campuses, left-leaning protestors are disrupting and shutting down conservative speakers to support trans students.

The TPUSA opposition’s official claims for disrupting and stopping Mr. Haworth’s speech was to show support for transgender people and stand up against transphobia. However, they failed to do so by being as disruptive as they were. Given that Mr. Haworth was here to talk about free speech, he likely was going to echo previous arguments about “how the left is attacking the free speech of conservatives.” Because he was restricted from holding the event publicly, he was inadvertently proven right. He can now take footage and photos from the event and argue “the left will suppress us whenever we try to speak something that they don’t like. They drove me out of UAlbany, and they’ll do the same to you.” While the left certainly won’t believe that, others will certainly find that a compelling argument.

If one wishes to prove themselves correct and the other guy wrong, you do not block the other guy from speaking by drowning them out with your own voice. The only exception to this rule is if the other guys are saying something so abhorrent and wrong that it needs to be suppressed. Since Mr. Haworth was here to talk about free speech and not about something such as the need to exterminate all LGBTQ people (thankfully), that exception doesn’t apply. Instead, you have to instead take the words and arguments from the other guy, and then prove them wrong, fallible, and that there is an alternative to them.

One can (and should) strongly condemn transphobia and organizations that are transphobic. That being said, completely suppressing these transphobic organizations and pretending they never exist is not the way to react. Like it or not, conservative people and organizations such as Mr. Haworth and TPUSA are no less legitimate than their left leading counterparts. The fact remains that we live in a democracy where ideas are free to circulate, and people are obligated to persuade, not threaten and suppress, if they wish to change the minds of the public. Ironically, there was a public forum after the event, which was the perfect way to approach this situation instead of the disruption that happened the night of the speech. Again, the ASP covered this better than I could and while I will still offer a brief explanation, I encourage you to read their coverage for better understanding.

In this public forum, the TPUSA opposition again affirmed their support for the LGBTQ community and condemned transphobia. In addition, they took the chance to criticize the status quo and offer suggestions as to how the campus could be improved and become a true support center for the LGBTQ community. There was no negativity, disruption, or chaos here, there was only positivity with hope for a better future. That being said, I should offer a disclaimer and note that TPUSA was not (publicly) there to offer any counter arguments and defend themselves at the forum.

Shutting down Mr. Haworths speech very easily makes the TPUSA opposition look like a mob who wishes to shut down opposition (conservative) views by any means necessary, and you can guarantee that many people will interpret the event like that – even if they personally support transgender people. Instead, by offering a vision of positivity, empathy, and support for one another from one neighbor to another, this can create a much more sympathetic and morally right positive image that the public will be much happier to get behind.

In addition, I would note that left-leaning organizations such as the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) are as legitimate an organization as TPUSA, and therefore are able to (and should) invite LGBTQ figures to speak at this campus much like TPUSA invited Mr. Haworth and will likely invite similar speakers in the future. If inviting a conservative speaker makes this campus less safe for our LGBTQ students, then inviting an LGBTQ speaker should therefore (theoretically) be a statement that this is indeed a safe campus for the LGBTQ community. It would also contribute to the image of positivity, support, and love which is the only true way to make permanent progress against homophobia and transphobia. Actions like these would also help to dispel the image that pro-LGBTQ protesters are more than a mob that succumbed to a hive mind mentality.

No matter how righteous one might feel when advocating for the LGBTQ community, or any cause in general, it is important to understand that your view is not the only view. This can be easy to forget when one surrounds themselves full of people who share your view, and you are taught and encouraged to see the opposition with their views as something “other” than you are. The reality is not that simple. Yes, many people will share your view, but many others will oppose your view, and many more are undecided and can be convinced to subscribe to your view or the other.

I can understand the righteous fury that many have when confronted with transphobia. It makes sense why people want to rush in guns blazing and put a stop to transphobia at all costs. But many people are more moderate, if not in their views, then in their temperament and behavior. When you give the opposition plenty of footage and instances that can easily portray you as unreasonable, disruptive, arrogant with the belief that you are infallible you will fail and damage your cause and image. And instead of acknowledging this and admitting that the public can be an ally that just needs to be convinced, instead they are labeled an irredeemable problem, which will certainly not help in advancing your cause.

The TPUSA opposition was not the first of its kind in this country, nor will it be the last. People will always be watching, and how protestors and people conduct themselves will be held up to scrutiny as much as the content of the arguments themselves. There will always be much better ways than shutting down the opposition to prove your point and advocate your cause in this democracy that we share.

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