Community Politics: Missouri’s Chance to Show Me Change

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Written by Robert Davis

In the weeks following the MU protests, major media outlets—Fox News specifically—have used personalities and guests alike to condemn the Concerned Students 1950 movement as “intolerant”, “infantile”, and “anti-American”. They cite the student’s use of grassroots organization to force resignations of high-ranking faculty and staff alike as a weapon that promotes leftist political agendas. Rather than debating the inherent issues of the Concerned Student movement, news outlets have either altogether blacked out their coverage or reduced it to being a more political spin-off of Black Lives Matter.

To set the scene: In 2001, Mizzou conducted a survey to gauge the student body attitude towards diversity on campus that ultimately lead to the employment of a Diversity Officer on staff and numerous attempts to put diversity education on the curriculum. In 2004, 150 students organized a sit-in after an article appeared in The Missourian telling black students to “stay in their own little world” after accusing them of vandalizing Greek Village. In 2011, “Nigger” was graphitized on the walls of a residential hall, and later that year, cotton balls were placed outside of the Black Culture Center before a meeting where over 850 representatives of Black Student Governments from campuses around the U.S. Add this to the lack of attention that the Ferguson rallies got from Mizzou’s student newspaper in 2014, and the racial setting at Mizzou is clear.

Fox correspondent Bill O’Riley said the MU protesters are “witch hunters” leading to “the rise of fascism on college campuses everywhere,” and “the issue seems to be racial insensitivity,” while shoveling the movement under the “far-left fanatic” rug. Even Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson appeared on The Kelly File adding “to say that I have the right to deny your civil rights because you’re offending me is un-constitutional… we will move further toward anarchy and much more quickly than anyone will like. We can’t allow these kinds of things to happen.”

This plays directly into the first talking point—language. Language brings an ideological context to discussions without needing to chase the goose of motive around the actions of each party involved. That’s why when someone says “nigger”, or tweets “I’ll stand my ground and shoot every black person I see,” they are immediately labeled as hate-mongers. Carson implies that these hate monger’s constitutional rights are being infringed because members of the Concerned Students are reporting hateful speech to local authorities. In fact, the first amendment does not protect hate speech as a form of free speech. The first amendment lays the framework for how governing bodies are to interact with the public, but it doesn’t say anything about interpersonal relations. The Supreme Court argues that even hate speech contains inklings of political ideas, and outlawing such a measure would inevitably outlaw political ideas in general. Reporting hate is not an act against free speech or any American right. What is anti-free-speech is how Fox uses the label “Fascist” to extoll any sense of justice within the Concerned Student movement. O’Riley says, “one of the hallmarks of fascism is that there is no such thing as free speech”. However true that may be, what is cleverly left out here is that free speech in America today does not exist in a “pure” form which O’Riley seems to imply.

U.S Title code 871 states that it is a Class-E felony to “knowingly and willfully make any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm to the President of the United States.” In the 1969 case of Watts v. US, Watts was arrested for making a remark about shooting LBJ while gesturing like he was holding a rifle during a political rally. He was subsequently charged with threatening the life of the President. The Court of Appeals argued that because the crowd around Watts laughed and applauded his remarks like those in Germany as Hitler spoke of his plans for the Jews, therefore Watts’ words carry a sinister intent. It’s like Russian comedian Yacov Smirnoff said, “We have free speech [in Russia]. We just don’t have freedom after speech.

With this in mind, we can examine Fox’s own politicized reporting strategy—something they accused the Concerned Students of doing themselves. If we focus on phrases like “far-left fanatics” and “offending me is un-constitutional,” an Us vs. Them stance becomes quite clear. If you are conservative, then you ultimately stand with the arguments of Carson and O’Riley, and anything else is just being sympathetic to a bunch of pissed-off black kids looking to get media attention. This matter de-contextualizes the racial occurrences at Mizzou to being just another act of politics, thus creating the left vs. right aspect. Doing so also gives weight to O’Riley’s “infantile” claim, as if the Concerned Students are rebelling against Mizzou’s power as an educational institution like they are dissenting against their parents. The difference is, if you are treated unfairly by your parents, another party will step in and intervene if the abuse is reported. If someone reports abuse by an educational institution, especially one who brings in millions upon millions of dollars through their athletic program, then the accuser is shunned as someone who does not want to follow the institutions rules. This single-party mentality is prima facie of what the Concerned Students are protesting against, not just the use of the word “nigger”.
The only issue left to consider, then, is Concerned Student’s use of community organization to force the hand of the institution, which Carson notes as being anarchistic in nature. Our Government has been doing this for decades, aligning big-money corporations against the 99 percenters in order to force the public’s hand to accept the will of the Government. This tactic is the primary driving force behind most American political campaigns. Politicians of both parties use community organization to gain votes, set their campaign apart from the rest, and ultimately divide the public in order to align grouped political ideologies with the politician. There is no denying that racial relations began the Concerned Student movement, but that does not mean that it is contained to being a strictly racial movement, or even likened to Black Lives Matter. What Missouri has seen, along with the American general public, is how powerful a group of well-organized dissidents is when faced against systematic and institutional marginalization. This sentiment is clearly expressed in our Declaration of Independence: Mankind [is] more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

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About author

Caylyn Perry

Caylyn is a sophomore who spent her childhood on army bases and her high school years in Columbia, MD. During her freshman year of college, Caylyn discovered her love of urban politics and has become deeply invested in advocating the importance of urban issues within the domestic sphere. In addition to writing for VPR, she is a research assistant at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, works in the Divinity School's DAR department, and volunteers with Circle K. This past summer, Caylyn worked for a Federal Contractor in D.C., at the State Department, and interned for an Ambassador. When she's not doing the college thing, she enjoys hiking, running, and exploring Nashville's incredible food scene.

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