At the center of the debate was an activity in March called a “Day of Absence.” Based on a play by Douglas Turner Ward in which the Black residents of a southern town don’t show up one morning to demonstrate their worth, Blacks and other students and faculty of color for a number of years have organized to meet off campus for a day. This year, however, they decided to reverse the “absence,” saying in the student newspaper, “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave campus for the day’s activities.” Pushing all Caucasians to leave for a day was justified, they said, “following the 2016 election.”
Bret Weinstein objected. He is a biology professor and life-long “progressive” who backed Bernie Sanders, joined Occupy Wall Street protests, and as a student at the University of Pennsylvania spoke out against racist conduct at campus fraternities. The “invitation” was an act of moral bullying, he indicated in a letter to the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services — staying on campus as a white person would mean being tarred as a racist.
Up to 50 students confronted Weinstein in his classroom, shouting and cursing at him, calling him racist and demanding he resign. The college police advised Weinstein to leave the campus for his own safety. He held his class off campus and gave interviews to the media.
Photographs of Weinstein and his students were circulated online and “Fire Bret” graffiti showed up on campus buildings. So much for the campus as a “safe space.”
Evergreen President George Bridges called the student bullies “courageous” and said no disciplinary action would be taken against any of them.
Over 50 Evergreen professors and more than a dozen staff members are circulating a letter claiming “Weinstein has endangered faculty, staff, and students, making them targets of white supremacist backlash” and calling for him to be disciplined.
Uneasy about threats of violence
In discussions with students, we found many felt uneasy not only about the threats of violence that shut down the college for a few days, but with the race-baiting and threatening tone of the protests that targeted Weinstein and other Caucasian workers and staff.
We raised with everyone that at Berkeley, Middlebury and other campuses we are seeing examples of attacks on the right to speak freely, justified in the name of “political correctness,” a focus on identity politics to the exclusion of all else, and threats and acts of violence against supporters of Donald Trump. This poses a danger for the working class. Liberals have always been the first to move against workers’ rights and then, when the capitalist rulers find it necessary, they unleash the thugs of the ultra-right to carry their assault on workers to the end.
“I had a class with professor Weinstein and I thought he was a very good teacher and certainly not racist,” one student majoring in communications who did not wish to give her name told us. “At the same time, as a Caucasian person I don’t feel I have a right to comment on issues of race.”
I told her that part of my campaign as the SWP candidate for mayor of Seattle is explaining the need to unify the working class to fight against the dog-eat-dog divisions the capitalist rulers impose on us — including dividing us on racial lines, pitting immigrant against native-born, and all the carnage we are living through under the crisis of their capitalist system.
“The Black rights movement in this country attracted millions of workers who were not African-American to join the mighty battles that overturned Jim Crow segregation,” I said, “just as the fight for women’s rights involved large numbers of men.”
We met Sara Durden, a history student at South Pacific Sound Community College who plans to transfer to Evergreen. “There is racism in society so the protests have a basis,” she said. “But this is all happening in an atmosphere of hysteria over the current president and the people who voted for him. I think most people who voted for Trump were fed-up regular people. I think we are at a point in history where it is up to us to make it better or it’s going to be a lot worse.”
“I think a lot of people wanted to have someone in office who was seen as outside of politics,” Durden’s friend Tiana Ayers, a biology student, said. “That is not what they got however and it helps nothing.” Durden and Ayers pooled their dollars to get a subscription to the Militant.
An economics student named Alec came over to talk. “I overheard you say we should look at the stakes for the working class if political debate is shut down. Nobody else is saying that.
“I transferred here from the University of Montana,” he said. “If you are conservative here at Evergreen you often don’t see the point of raising your views in class because of the liberals who would isolate or denounce you.”
“This discussion here with you is beautiful. Many people on this campus won’t have this exchange,” said psychology student Diego Alexander. “Any time anyone says something that challenges their belief, they go to their professor. It turns into ‘they’re bullying me.’”
Party members later knocked on working people’s doors in Olympia to continue the discussion and introduce the SWP. “Students should push the envelope,” Stacey, an office worker, told us. “But I read Weinstein’s email and I didn’t get it. I didn’t really see what triggered them. I think they got mad because he took the issue outside of the Evergreen bubble. I think you have to be able to accept other people that don’t think the way you do.”
SWP opposes moves to ban Trump rally in Portland, campaigns there
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