Anyway, since Laramie Project treats the brutal torture and death of a homosexual sympathetically, this group announced that they were going to show up in Cullowhee to protest the production. They went through all of the appropriate steps to be duly authorized to engage in their protest on campus, which meant that there was no legal reason to not allow them their Constitutional right to do so. What I remember about this incident, however, was that Gene McAbee, Chief of campus police at the time, whom several of us met with out of concern for the possibility of violence developing, strongly urged us to simply ignore them and to encourage our students to do so. He suggested that what they wanted most was publicity, so the idea of counter-protests would simply contribute to making their story more important. There was interest shown by students and others during their demonstrations, but there was no violence and relatively little noise. Mostly, as I remember it, there were simply a few protesters, waving their signs and chanting their slogans and a few folks watching them, or simply passing by.
I was reminded of this idea while watching the news from Charlottesville yesterday. Or rather, I came away with the idea that the “protesters” (white supremacists, neo-nazis, KKK members, etc.) came for the purpose of causing trouble. Why wouldn’t they? If they could goad “counter-protesters” into raising a stink, they were almost guaranteed to have a bigger news story than otherwise, and they sure got their way.
Now, I have nothing good to say about people from outside a community assembling for the purpose of creating trouble (hence publicity) within that community. But, as long as they only assemble peacefully, that is they don’t engage in physical action dangerous to others, they do have the Constitutional right to do it. Of course I think it’s highly probable that they went to Charlottesville to try to cause trouble, but that’s very hard to prove legally. Personally, I think the City authorities of Charlottesville have the right to place or remove any statue they own on Charlottesville city property for whatever reason they wish. After all, it’s their statue and their land. If they decide that it’s in their public interest to remove that statue, it seems like it’s their business. Still, even outsiders do have the right “…peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
On the other hand, the “protesters” rights don’t diminish the rights of those who disagree (the “counter-protesters”), but I wonder if any of us would look upon this weekend’s events with much more than a laugh if the “protesters” had just marched around empty streets and closed businesses in front of nobody but the media (which, obviously, assembled in the hope of a “good” story, which usually means lots of good pictures of people screaming and beating each other up). What would have happenned if the good citizens of Charlottesville had just said to themselves “They have a right to protest, but we don’t have to pay attention to them. After all, most of them don’t live here, anyway. We can avoid being a part of their story and, in the process, make their story less interesting.” Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened, so we have a much bigger story than was deserved and one which the pundits will be talking about for days. I think that’s too bad.
I KNOW how hard it is to just walk away from someone speaking in favor of that which we consider to be abominable, but Aaron Sorkin had it right when he had Andrew Shepherd say “America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say ‘You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man who's words make your blood boil, and who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’” We WANT to express our opinions. But, perhaps (just perhaps) there are times when silence can speak louder than words.
It’s an idea worth thinking about, perhaps even spreading.