It's time for liberals to leave their "Safe Spaces" and protest.
Liberals must leave their "safe spaces" and protest. We cannot exist only in an intellectual vacuum; instead, we must spit on our hands and raise the black flag by protesting.
In the last few years, university students around the United States have used "safe spaces" as an excuse to silence offensive opinions.
The idea is that certain speech can harm someone else's mental health, and so those vulnerable individuals must be protected from harmful speech. "Safe spaces" don't mean the same thing everywhere. In some contexts, they serve an important purpose: in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, for example, attendees benefit from an atmosphere free from judgment.
But some have expanded and contorted "safe spaces" to impose speech restrictions in public spaces, pleading to universities or the government to shut up offensive ideas or tell people how to dress.
Weaponizing "safe spaces" to stifle speech must end, though, because (1) it doesn't actually work to stop offensive ideas or speech and (2) it isn’t consistent with our nation’s founding principles.
Asking a university to shut down offensive political points of view doesn't make those ideas go away.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the now disgraced former editor of Breitbart, and his ridiculous ideas about women or whatever his invective issue du jour happens to be is by and large correct about safe spaces. It's a disservice to students to coddle them or protect them from offensive ideas. The world we live in is deeply offensive. But social justice warriors don't need to hide in a safe space. That's hardly 'warrioring'. But as much arm flapping as the alt-right does in the name of free speech they don't get to have it both ways where protests get derided as undemocratic or oppositional free speech.
The safe space strategy to get rid of regressive ideas or 'harmful' speech is also a demonstrable failure. It creates small echo chambers of self-reinforcement, and when liberals don’t leave those echo chambers and force a national dialogue those ideas get sidelined. If liberals refuse to leave a safe-space, accept the reality of the world, and force change through protest liberal ideas run the risk of withering and dying while crazy ideas about deporting our neighbors and stripping people of healthcare become normalized.
The “safe space” strategy is also antithetical to free speech principles and the free exchange of ideas that should occur regularly. No one’s ideas are immune from a “safe space” attack—whether speech is harmful is in the ear of the listener. The founders recognized that problem, and they adopted the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from picking and choosing what speech people may consider. It’s literally the first amendment—not that later amendment are less important, but still. It’s literally the very first one. When protesters demand that public universities eliminate views they disagree with, they are advocating a constitutional violation. They are advocating the destruction of the so-called “fourth branch of government.” If that sounds distinctly Trumpian, it’s because it’s meant to.
Unlike Donald Trump, though, the protesters have taken more steps to realizing the destruction of an important check on government power. While Trump has issued prolific and vitriolic tweets, his Justice Department has quietly asked the Ninth Circuit to hold reconsideration of the ban on the Muslim ban, and it has not appealed the matter to the Supreme Court. Protesters at Berkeley, meanwhile, have resorted to violence and property destruction because campus administrators refused to violate the First Amendment.
The Berkeley approach is close to the right approach. Civil disobedience is speech too, and students and activists are under no obligation to roll out a red carpet for demagogues like Milo, Trump, or any of Bannon’s Breitbart stooges. Activists must make their views known.
Mass protests accomplished a great deal in our country's history. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to getting rid of the draft and expediting an end to the Vietnam War—protests rattle Congress and the Executive. And social media has made it easier than ever to organize.
People have already shown up to the recess town halls. Protests have already proven successful at getting the attention of the President.
However, it's not enough to merely protest or stand against Trump and whatever his ever-shifting narrative of pseudo-psychosis whips up from week to week. Successful protests require concrete goals and leadership. It's worth taking a page out of the social media surrounding Trump's campaign that despite enormous deficits in his own ground game his supporters could basically keep an online Trump rally going 24/7 for months on end on sites like Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. They all had the singular goal of using memetic messaging to place Trump in the White House. You can contrast this against the Occupy movement which refused leadership and failed to articulate particular goals despite the ability to get noisy. Successful protests require sustained protesting with purpose by (1) standing against articulated policies, and (2) standing for concrete objectives. Distinct and organized leadership usually satisfies the second prong.
This is a pivotal moment for liberals in the United States. For the last 8 years, liberals enjoyed the luxury of controlling the executive branch and felt empowered to experiment with safe spaces as a method for silencing or ignoring conservative voices. Safe spaces don't control the national narrative—protesting with purpose does.
It's time for liberals to exit their safe spaces and engage again by raising the black flag and protesting again.