During a panel of local elected officials in the weeklong #StopSpencer campaign, officeholders discussed how to combat hate speech and white nationalism without providing a platform for a negative ideology, a conversation that was held as park of a teach-in. The teach-in was just one event of their “Week of Action” protesting the University of Michigan’s consideration to allow white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus if a safe venue and time is found.
Many students expressed their frustration regarding how to proceed in the face of deciding between protesting if Richard Spencer were to visit and therefore providing him with a platform or allowing Spencer to spread his ideas without resistance.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor in response. “Richard Spencer is the tip of the iceberg. Richard Spencer is just a mouthpiece.”
Rabhi cited the fact that Ann Arbor is the fourth highest metropolitan city in terms of racial segregation.
“This is real and it’s happening here,” Rabhi said. “I hope we stop Spencer, but I hope it doesn’t stop there.”
Many elected officials such as Washtenaw County Commissioners Felicia Brabec and Jason Morgan, and Rabhi, argued for students to stand strong and not provide a platform for Spencer’s hate speech. The officials argued students need to find a way to be heard without giving a voice to white supremacy, whether by forcing Spencer to speak to an empty room of people, or offering alternative rallies preaching positive ideologies.
State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, said students should use this issue as an opportunity to bring strong civil rights leaders to the University to overpower Spencer’s ideas with powerful representatives of racial equality.
Ann Arbor City Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, echoed this sentiment, stating the community should be focused on positive action rather than constant criticism.
“We need to focus on the benefits we can bring,” Ackerman said. “We need to stop being hyperfocused on the ‘alt-right’ failures and instead what we can do to make it better because the ‘alt-right’ is more focused on us than Trump or his failures.”
Throughout the panel, the elected officials highlighted the importance of the voice of the student body.
“I believe that we can keep our idealism and passion. Hopefully we can bring them along or push them along,” Morgan said, regarding the importance of young perspectives in politics.
In a room where every seat was filled and several students were forced to stand, Brabec said she was encouraged to see how many students had come out in response to the situation despite the stress of finals.
LSA freshman Amy Ransom said she has participated in the week of action because she believes it is more important than everyday work.
“It’s important that no matter what is going on in our lives — finals or papers — we all participate and stand against this issue,” Ransom said.
Morgan said Spencer is representative of a much larger issue. In the past year, racist posters and graffiti have been found in multiple instances on campus.
“We are not as progressive as we should be," Morgan said. "We should be the most progressive.”
Students and officials alike agreed the #StopSpencer campaign was nowhere near over and they would continue to discuss ways to combat his impending visit.
Earlier in the evening, the second teach-in of the Week of Action for Protest Safety Training was held in an East Quad Residence Hall classroom. The event was hosted in part by the Non-Compliance Collective, an Ann Arbor-based group which, according to its Facebook page, aims to “reject all compliance with the rules, regulations, and norms that any person or system intends to impose on our bodies, minds, or beings.”
The teach-in emphasized ways to stay safe and be prepared at protests. Attendees were advised to take several measures to protect themselves. Among other steps, they were advised to use a fake name while protesting and to not take photos or record any aspect of the protest.
Before the event began, attendees were asked basic questions, such as if they were students or police to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance. The speakers stressed that if a protester is going to talk to someone about their protest participation, it should be someone they trust.
Speakers told audience members to consider how far they would be willing to go to protest. For example, attendees were asked to consider if they would be willing to get arrested. Though the speakers noted it would be inconvenient to get arrested, they explained sometimes arrests and the attention they draw may serve to help the cause.
Additionally, speakers advised attendees to not bring their cell phones to the protests, but if they must, to disable the fingerprint and face recognition features, establish a strong passcode and encrypt data so the police do not have access to personal information in the event of an arrest.
Speakers also emphasized creating an affinity group — a small group of trustworthy people, with whom protests can be planned.
Finally, the speakers discussed what the police strategies were like at University of Florida, which ultimately allowed Spencer on campus after facing a lawsuit, and how to be safe around the police. They also went over the basic booking process so the attendees will be prepared in case of being arrested and basic medical procedures, such as giving someone with symptoms of hypothermia a jacket, and help for protecting their identity and avoiding a higher police presence. To conclude, the speakers stressed the importance of these procedures is so the protestors are able to take care of each other and get their message across in the most impactful way possible.
In cooperation with the teach-in’s advice to engage in self-protection measures, after the event, student attendees asked to remain anonymous.
“I think it’s important to give people, protesters, the idea that this a big deal,” a student said. “It is important to have knowledge of this matter, particularly because the other side has knowledge on that matter and so everything about this is all about information and so the more information you have the more successful you’ll be.”
Another student emphasized the importance of ensuring safety and strategy while protesting, reiterating the key concepts put forth in the event.
“This is important because it’s a reality that might happen, the protest, and if you choose to participate in it or not you want to know how to stay safe and keep others safe so it’s just a logical way to protest — not just on a whim, but have a plan going into it,” the student said.