The University of Florida reportedly spent at least $500,000 in security when White nationalist Richard Spencer came on campus to speak last week.
Now that’s pricey.
I know free speech isn’t free.
But mine was a bargain for the students and community last week in Stockton, Calif.
At the University of Pacific, I performed my one-man show — a historically-based monologue that touches on all the hot buttons of today. Racism, White nationalism, and violence all come up in my personal story being the son of a colonized Filipino who came to America in the 1930s and faced the same sort of thing we’re seeing today.
And of course, I tell it all with an ironic sense of humor.
About 100 students, faculty, and community members showed up at the Wendell Phillips Center lecture hall event to help honor Filipino American History Month, as established by the Filipino American National Historical Society.
As a bonus, for my presentation, the university didn’t have to call in extra security, or any security at all, as far as I could tell. (They did provide cookies and coffee for attendees).
There were no alerts to the police. No emergency declaration from the state.
I charged a fee to speak, of course, but I cost nothing like the $500,000 Florida spent to make sure all was safe during Spencer’s speech.
Call me the anti-Richard Spencer.
Spencer, in true provocateur fashion, actually invited himself and paid $10,000 to speak at the University of Florida campus for about 700 invited guests. The school originally didn’t want him or the others, but when threatened by a suit, was forced to allow the speaker his gathering.
That was the right move.
And so was the move by counter-protestors to show up en masse (about 2,000) to let Spencer know his views were despicable.
The best way to neutralize and defeat White nationalism is to expose it. Allowed to fester in the darkness, it cannot survive in the bright light of day.
Another way is to make sure a long list of other less controversial but more illuminating speakers are continuously invited to campuses for students and the community to hear.
A diverse group of speakers throughout the year helps to deny Spencer’s ideas credibility. People can hear for themselves what’s worthwhile and what’s not.
But all must be invited on campus.
That addresses the speech issue.
The security part is another matter. $500,000? Overreaction? There’s got to be a better way.
As it was, there was only a few minor examples of violence on campus.
Off-campus there were Spencer supporters from Texas who attended the speech and were clearly looking for trouble. Three of them were arrested in a shooting incident where reportedly no one was hurt.
Maybe outsiders wouldn’t come to a campus event if they knew it wasn’t going to be a spectacle. While the university did a good job by scheduling it on an afternoon, perhaps a breakfast talk would have been better to limit the audience (do White supremacists get up before noon?)
Part of me also thinks officials helped create the hysteria in the days leading up to the speech. State of Emergency? Really?
One thing for sure, schools must avoid the instinct to consider shutting down the Spencers of the world. There are more than enough anti-Spencers to tip the balance. Invite them all.
In that way, a school keeps to the tried and true formula. You honor the First Amendment with more speech, not less.
One respectfully disagrees with even the most loathsome.
That’s what we do in a democracy.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the civil rights group AALDEF at http://www.aaldef.org/blog