After two days of debate, ASUCI Senate unanimously rejected a legislation last Thursday which would have publicly condemned the actions of Antifa rioters at a Milo Yiannopoulous event earlier this month at UC Berkeley. The legislation called for a disavowal of “terrorist activities on all UC campuses by Antifa” and called it “critical that we do not condone terrorism on our college campuses.”
The legislation was written in the wake of several national controversies over Yiannopoulos, a former tech editor at conservative website Breitbart, who is noted for his provocative speaking tours at college campuses. He appeared at UCI twice in 2016, in June for an event titled “Social Justice is Cancer” and again in October for a pro-Trump “Rally for America.” On Feb. 1, a similar speaking event at UC Berkeley was cancelled after approximately 150 Antifa, or Anti-fascist, rioters joined an otherwise peaceful protest, proceeding to destroy university property and injure several attendees. The incident prompted President Donald Trump to threaten UC Berkeley’s federal funding on Twitter the following morning.
More recently, Yiannopoulos faced backlash and resigned from Breitbart last week after videos surfaced in which he appeared to defend pedophilia. The scandal made discussion of the ASUCI legislation, which appeared to defend Yiannopoulos, contentious during Senate meetings last Tuesday and Thursday.
Social ecology Senator Melissa Safady, who authored the legislation, said that it was intended to “endorse protests and condemn violence.” The legislation itself calls to “discourage violence at UCI and promote unity through debate, thus maintaining a safe campus for all.” Further, it states that “censoring ideas by forcing cancellations of free speech activists by employing terrorist tactics based on prejudice, what Antifa does, is the antithesis of the culture that fosters learning and education through debate.”
Many Senators took issue with the use of the word “terrorism” in the legislation, as well as the fact that UC Berkeley’s own student government has not passed any legislation regarding the riots.
“The word terrorism has been affiliated with targeting Black and brown people in a negative way,” said Business School Senator Julie Lim, . “The wording isn’t as sensitive as it should be… also, instead of ‘condemning the actions of Antifa protesters and supporters,’ we should rather focus on how ASUCI Senate promotes peaceful protests.”
Other Senators asked why the legislation condemns physical violence, but not the otherwise destructive effects of Yiannopoulos’s events on students.
“You want to condemn violence, but what would you say about not condemning just physical violence but verbal and emotional violence?” Social sciences Senator Grecia Orozco asked Safady.
“We can’t decide whose speech is right and wrong,” replied Safady. “I don’t necessarily agree with everything [Yiannopoulos] says either, some things that some speakers say are inflammatory, but I personally believe all of this is an opportunity to challenge and find truth instead of being violent.”
Members of the public commented before the legislation went to a vote, arguing that voting in favor of the resolution would perpetuate violence on minority communities.
“The language of this legislation asserts that visitors should feel comfortable coming on campus and utilizing their free speech but what it doesn’t acknowledge is that [Yiannopoulos] has verbally attacked trans students to a point where they felt forced to drop out of college,” said Jose De Jesus Santacruz. “He started calling for the purging of undocumented immigrants… which he was actually going to do in his time at the Berkeley event. He was going to out undocumented students at a time when Trump just got elected, putting lives at risk. So no, this is not just an issue of free speech, it’s actually people whose lives are in danger — students who go to Berkeley, and pay to go to Berkeley.”
External Vice President Taylor Chanes further argued that since UC Berkeley’s own student government, ASUC, has not passed any measures related to the protests, it is not ASUCI’s place to pass such a legislation. She noted also that ASUCI Senators are representatives of their schools; if no constituents asked for the legislation, Chanes said, ASUCI should not pass it.
“We shouldn’t speak on behalf of students who haven’t asked us to speak in this way,” said Chanes. “This is not our campus, nor the direct community we work with.”
Legislative Affairs Director Brennan Gonering expressed similar sentiments, asking, “has anybody in favor of this legislation talked to anyone at UC Berkeley, or ASUC? Why are we inserting ourselves when UC Berkeley’s leaders aren’t?”
After discussion, ASUCI Senate unanimously voted against the resolution, with 16 “no” votes, zero “yes” votes and two abstentions. Senator Safady voted “no” on the resolution she authored.