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Comparing student protests with fascism ignores plight of marginalized groups

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Protest, it seems, is very much the spirit of the age. From Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March, American citizens have made a point to speak out against the things they will not stand for, and college students are no exception to this rule.

However, despite the intrinsically American nature of protest, it is not always painted in a positive light by the media. In fact, a recent article in the New York Times by Michael H. Schill made the endlessly clever connection: College students protesting conservative speakers at their schools, become the very fascists they hate by shutting down the free speech of others. What a new and enlightening concept. What a brilliant comparison. What a load of bull.

A look at the general conversation surrounding student protests: much of this dialogue is conflated with conservative misuse of psychological terms such as “safe space” and “triggered,” in which protestors are portrayed as being oversensitive, unable to cope with the harsh realities of the world and therefore trying to silence them.

This is then translated to mean that these students are prohibiting free speech.The idea here is that in protesting speakers, they do not let them speak their mind and, thusly, refuse to have any sort of dialogue that would inhibit any sort of reconciliation between the two groups. There is no compromise here.

This isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s true that protestors are often unwilling to compromise with the issues they protest. But it’s worth considering the fact that this does not infringe upon free speech. Free speech, specifically the amendment which protects it, guarantees that the government cannot punish individuals for what they say so long as it does not incite violence. It says nothing about the public reaction to it. So it doesn’t infringe upon free speech, technically.

Moreover, the comparison between protest and fascism is just inane. In this sense, one must understand the distinction between speech which promotes the rights of marginalized people and that which seeks to limit it. When marginalized people speak about their experiences and the inequality they face, it’s to fight for their right to live, to be treated fairly. When many conservatives speak, it’s under the pretense of limiting the lives of these people.

Conversion therapy, deportation, and limitations on birth control, all hurt marginalized people and are all aspects of conservative mindsets. Why should we listen to people whose goal is to infringe upon our lives? Why should we be expected to respect the opinions of people who don’t even respect our existences? In what way is that productive?

I would like to conclude with an open letter to people who find fault with these protestors: Where is your condemnation of the prison system? The militaristic police culture of America and the continued violence against people of color? Where is your outcry against the breaking of treaties with First Nations tribes or your disgust for literal Nazis parading down our streets with pride?

Are you so self absorbed that the only thing that concerns you is no one wanting to hear your dusty, insipid, and quite frankly crappy opinion? Every time you make some low-brow, hair-brained comparison of student protests to fascism, you ignore and perpetuate the real fascism in America.

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Comparing student protests with fascism ignores plight of marginalized groups