The youth of this generation are disillusioned, cynical, bitter. We are forced to deal with what the older generations have handed to us. We strive to be recognized, to be accepted. Articles under the ‘Thoughts of the Youth’ detail our struggles, our passions, our gifts, our nightmares.
When I heard the news that Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right political commentator known for his incendiary rhetoric, was speaking at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), on the afternoon of Oct. 31, I decided to attend to protest his hate speech. I felt I had an obligation to protest because I disagreed with everything Yiannopoulos stood for: anti-feminism (“No matter how you look at it, feminism is cancer”), racism (“Behind every racist joke is a scientific fact”, and homophobia (“Something inside me tells me that being homosexual is probably wrong”). If I stayed silent, I would feel guilty about not raising my voice.
Around 4:20 p.m., protesters filed into the main quad to initiate a peaceful protest, chanting “Racists out, immigrants in”. CSUF security officers lined the perimeter of the quad, hands hovering on their hips. It wasn’t hard to guess why, given that previous speeches at universities such as UC Irvine on June 2, 2016, and UC Berkeley on Sept. 24, resulted in violent clashes between Yiannopoulos supporters and members of Antifa, an anti-fascist political movement (who were also present at CSUF, and identifiable by their “Antifascist Action” posters).
According to the OC Register, roughly 800 supporters were in attendance, with an unconfirmed number of protesters.
By 4:30 p.m., a new chant began: “The police and the Klan go hand in hand.” It was a mark of the angry tensions exacerbated by the dozens of rows of helmeted riot police from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies, with the LA Times reporting that at least 275 officers were on campus. The atmosphere grew restless, tense, and ominous; I was beginning to fear that violence would potentially break out, as if everyone was expecting violence to break out.
As the protest continued, murmurs of disapproval grew to heated yells, which in turn led to vicious arguments, with various protesters and counter-protesters screaming in each others’ contorted faces. All around me were angry demonstrators and Yiannopoulos advocates pushing and shoving me in their rage.
Suddenly, around 30 feet away from me, a fist fight erupted between a MAGA-hat-wearing middle-aged woman and a young African-American mother, with Fox News reporting the cause of the fight to be the elder woman chiding the mother for bringing her daughter to the protest. As they were pulled apart, the Yiannopoulos supporter pepper-sprayed the protester.
In the distance, riot officers brandished their night sticks in an offensive position, ready to strike. Although they were there to maintain law and order, that positive message was a stark contrast to the wall of armored and armed officers. A protester who shoved an officer was dragged down and handcuffed, screaming obscenities as several more riot officers created an outward-facing circle around the arrest. Yiannopoulos supporters repeated the phrase, “He is our voice” and they angrily argued that Yiannopoulos gives the right-wing a voice.
It was at this point that I decided that I should not stay at the protest as the mood was too violent.
The protest and its quick spiral to mayhem opened my eyes to the divisions that split our society apart. The protest was designed, initially, to be peaceful, but in my eyes, it had collapsed into argumentation driven by hate on both ends. Both sides were motivated by their own ideals: protesters believed Yiannopoulos’ speech was an insult to free speech, while supporters believe Yiannopoulos was a way for their conservative voice to be heard.
According to the OC Register, Yiannopoulos continued his speech, discussing topics from the Hollywood sexual allegations (“Halloween is the only day when 14 year olds willingly go to Kevin Spacey’s house”) to Michelle Obama’s looks (“…no one is attracted to transsexuals”), with his next stop located in Sydney, Australia.
Jonathan Lopez, a fellow protester I had met, noted that “The protest will dissipate, but I think I’ve been challenged by this opportunity to become more involved in my community against hate speech.” I realized over the next several days that he was right; the protest may not have stopped Yiannopoulos, but it did inspire me to raise my voice and become more involved in activism.
I walked away from the protest strongly believing that even though Yiannopoulos was allowed to speak, my presence assisted in providing a stance against the hate speech he so vigorously stood for.