On drawing attention to that which you despise.
To judge by the big bold text on the posters that have been appearing all over campus, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been invaded by white supremacists. If you read the fine print, though, you’ll find that it’s not actually white supremacists: it’s just right-wingers who happen to share a symbol and a co-founder with white supremacist groups, or something like that. But you will also find out when and where this small group of anti-immigration, anti-multicultural conservatives—Youth for Western Civilization, they call themselves—is holding their next meeting, should you care to “turn your words into action.” In other words, would you care to join the protest?
To be honest, the anti-YWC posters are far and away the best publicity for the YWC events. Youth for Western Civilization at UNC is a tiny group of students, whose goals are roundly rejected by the larger campus conservative community, such as it is. Yet because they’re linked up with a national organization, they were able to schedule a speech by former Congressman and bottom-tier Presidential candidate Tom Tancredo for Tuesday of last week. I spend quite a bit of time on campus, but I wouldn’t have heard of the event, if not for a poster like the one described above that caught my eye as it fluttered in a stairwell of the math building.
And so the students who came to protest clearly outnumbered the folks who came to lend Mr. Tancredo a sympathetic ear. Of the protesters, it’s clear that many—perhaps a majority, it’s hard to tell—were commendably dedicated to letting Mr. Tancredo speak first and disputing his points afterwards. But at least some students were bent on disrupting the event, unfurling banners in front of Mr. Tancredo as he tried to begin his presentation. The protest grew unruly after police responded harshly to the angry students. Someone broke a window, and Mr. Tancredo quickly left campus.
The protest succeeded in preventing Mr. Tancredo from speaking, and perhaps they provided the protesters themselves with some kind of catharsis, but by any other rational standard it was a total failure. The accounts of the situation that I’ve read on conservative websites (Malkin link alert) don’t mention that the campus left was roundly condemned for its involvement with disruptive tactics by the campus’s much larger liberal community, including the College Democrats, administrators, various alumni, and student identity groups. The student founder of Youth for Western Civilization was interviewed on the front page of the Daily Tar Heel, and the paper’s editorial board has also called for Tancredo to be invited back to campus to speak again. By creating a spectacle where none existed already, the protesters have put the ideas they wanted to drive away squarely in the spotlight. As best I can tell, YWC couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. “NO DIALOGUE WITH HATE,” the signs said—but now you’ve gotten everyone talking. (“No dialogue with hate” was also the name of the protest’s Facebook group, for what it’s worth.)
I’ve rehearsed this tale at some length primarily to make the rather obvious point that it’s not always worthwhile to draw attention to what you despise. I think the point stands even here in the churn of blogging, where the effects of speech are so diffuse as to seem negligible. Signaling my own disapproval, intense though it may be, isn’t the same as convincing someone else to disapprove. “Will this hurt my cause more than it helps?” is not a bad question to ask before clicking “post” or printing up hundreds of flyers accusing college students of being white supremacists. (Never mind that “white supremacists” isn’t really an accurate description of YWC. The relevant pejorative, as it happens, is “nativists.”) Here, for example, in this very post, I’ve tried to describe something that’s been driving me crazy while at the same time providing you, the reader, with some edifying content.
It turns out that YWC has another event on campus tonight—as before, I learned about it from the bizarre posters—so I’m curious to see what lessons the campus left learned from last week.