On Oct. 28, the Ethical Investment Front published an op-ed in The Michigan Daily calling for the University of Michigan administration to cancel Young Americans for Freedom’s Nov. 15 speech with Ben Shapiro at Rackham Auditorium. Though the authors cited “threat(s) to safety” as justification for their demand, their piece was clearly an attempt to stifle the free speech of conservative students on campus.
They compared Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew who has experienced some of the worst kinds of antisemitic attacks, to Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi and white nationalist. It is hard to find a more mainstream conservative figure than Shapiro. With the authors calling his visit “regrettably reminiscent” of Spencer’s attempt to speak at the University and claiming his “presence will only cause harm to our campus and communities in Ann Arbor,” one has to wonder what conservative commentator they would deem acceptable.
The Young Americans for Freedom’s board had a discussion about how we should respond. We, as well as Shapiro, took to Twitter to publicize our disagreements, but we wondered whether we should do something more, such as write a counter op-ed. In the end, we concluded that the best response was to prove the authors wrong. We decided to focus our energy into putting together a successful and safe event that bettered the political discourse of the campus community. On the night of Nov. 15, we did just that.
Over a thousand people, most of them students, filed into Rackham to hear from Shapiro. People who got their free tickets on Eventbrite lined up on the east side of the building and were let in first. Though we gave out nearly 1,100 tickets, fewer than 500 of those who reserved them put them to use, presumably because of leftist efforts to suppress turnout; as expected, Nota Fascist, a registered attendee whose email is firstname.lastname@example.org, did not intend on coming to the event.
Once the ticket line dried up, we let in the line of standbys, who were unable to order tickets in time but came in the hopes of seats opening up. That line wrapped around the block, and the people in it braved the cold temperatures, rain and snow for a chance to see Shapiro. Thanks to their enthusiasm, we filled the venue.
In between the two lines were a dozen or so protestors, holding signs and chanting various slogans. There was some jawing back and forth between the line occupants and protestors, but nothing ever escalated.
Only one attendee was the slightest bit problematic. A woman decked out in leather and sad clown makeup attempted to take a bag of frozen condoms into the event. After they were confiscated, she vandalized one of the restrooms with graffiti that read, “BEN SHAPIRO GOT POUNDED IN HERE.” Thanks to the security at Rackham, she was escorted out to prevent any disruption.
With all attendees seated, the speech began on time. Shapiro came on stage to give his speech, “Exposing the Great Reset,” about the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) corporatist plan to revive the world after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the 20-minute speech was edifying, the highlight of the night was the question-and-answer portion. Shapiro allowed a full 45 minutes to discuss with students the important political issues of our day. Due to his usual policy of allowing those who disagreed with him to cut to the front of the line, we found three people willing to discuss their disagreements with Shapiro’s ideas. They brought up the policies of the WEF, transgender issues and abortion. Each person did so respectfully, and their discussions were pleasant and productive.
After the Q&A ended, the attendees left the venue, and the members of our chapter celebrated an immensely successful event at which we furthered the campus dialogue in a responsible manner. Rather than making a bunch of noise over the Ethical Investment Front’s op-ed, we provided a higher rebuttal. Our actions spoke louder than complaints about the calls for censorship ever could.
When I introduced Shapiro, I called him one of the great spokesmen of the American conservative movement. The work of our chapter members demonstrates that our campus is thirsting not only for visits from these spokesmen but for conservative and other heterodox opinions more broadly. Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Michigan is made up of incredibly dedicated students ready to provide that, and we know there are people here who want to listen.
Charles Hilu is the Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom and Editor in Chief of The Michigan Review, a conservative publication on campus.