Black Lives Matter protesters shut down an ACLU-sponsored event on Freedom of Speech at William & Mary College late last week.
On September 27, the planned topic of discussion was, “Students and the First Amendment.” That discussion never took place.
The speech and planned Q&A session was disrupted within five minutes of its start time as multi-racial, anti-racist activists swarmed the stage held by Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.
Gastañaga was briefly introduced by a student, but never got a chance to get her argument out, as sign-wielding protesters chanted pointed slogans such as “liberalism is white supremacy,” and “the revolution will not uphold the constitution.”
After twenty minutes of the sustained, anti-racist din, one of the Black Lives Matter protesters was approached by Hasini Bandara, Director of Internal Affairs with Alma Mater Productions (who co-sponsored the event with the ACLU) and given a microphone. The unnamed activist read from a prepared statement, saying:
When is the free speech of the oppressed protected? We know from personal experience that rights granted to wealthy, white, cis, male, straight bodies do not trickle down to marginalized groups. We face greater barriers and consequences for speaking.
After that, the activist returned to the human wall of protesters blocking most of the stage from the audience’s view. The chants continued. An additional ten minutes of protesting resulted in the plug being pulled entirely; the discussion was cancelled.
Alma Mater Productions Director Miguel Dayan said, “It was a collective decision from people in the AMP leadership team and our advisers. It was clear that we [were] unable to continue with the event, and it was appropriate to cancel.”
As most attendees began to file out, some stayed behind to ask Gastañaga a few questions. This quickly became untenable as well.
While interested students attempted to ask the ACLU director questions, the anti-racist protesters turned their focus to this small group and circled them, chanting louder until everyone decided to call it quits. Some students left grumbling about the turn of events.
One of the undergrads who attended, Laith Hashem, in comments to William & Mary College newspaper The Flat Hat, said, “I think they had every right to do what they did. I don’t agree with their method, [but] they’re completely entitled to their opinions. But the thing I disagreed with most was that every opportunity they had to have a discussion, both with the speaker and the audience, they responded by increasing their volume and shouting louder.”
The William and Mary Black Lives Matter Facebook group later claimed responsibility for the disruption. Their post read:
Tonight, we shut down an event at William & Mary where Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, was speaking. In contrast to the ACLU, we want to reaffirm our position of zero tolerance for white supremacy no matter what form it decides to masquerade in.
In later comments to The Black Voice, a member of Black Lives Matter’s William & Mary branch said, “This is not about AMP. This is not about the ACLU. This is about liberals use of the concept of free speech in the furthering of White Supremacy… Our goal is to silence white supremacy, to not allow it a platform like the ACLU has done for a long time. It’s not just the ACLU that has done this, it’s liberal organizations. Most liberal students on this campus believe that white supremacy should be valued as free speech, as discourse, and we firmly disagree with that.”
William & Mary College President Taylor Reveley issued a statement after the event was cancelled. It reads, in part:
Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community. This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency. William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue.
[image via screengrab]