Have Your Speech and Eat It Too campaign collects funds for every word of Spencer speech

Monday, March 5, 2018 - 9:56pm

In the wake of a potential visit from white supremacist Richard Spencer, a coalition of University of Michigan students, faculty and staff have established the “Have Your Speech and Eat It Too” campaign, pledging money to organizations supporting issues such as immigrant rights, emergency housing for abused women and families in Ann Arbor and food injustice for the Black community in Detroit. The funds are allocated for each word spoken at Spencer’s Monday speech at Michigan State University, as well as his possible speech at the University next semester.

University community members created the campaign as a way to stand in solidarity with those who are threatened by Spencer’s white nationalist rhetoric. At the time of publication Monday night, the campaign raised $7,623 from 114 total donations. 

Silke-Maria Weineck, professor of German and comparative literature, is one of the faculty members involved in the campaign and explained the inspiration for the initiative came from similar anti-fascist protests in Wunsiedal, Germany, beginning in 2014, that were organized in response to an annual neo-Nazi march in the town. In protest, residents donated money for each step the neo-Nazis took in their city. Instead of steps, the initiative at the University will donate money based on word count.

“The more (Spencer) dribbles on with his super hateful stuff, the more money we can raise for causes that he would abhor,” Weineck said.

Lecturer Anne Berg, the History Department’s assistant director of undergraduate studies, is another faculty member involved with the campaign. Berg wrote in an email interview she hoped the campaign would turn the words of the white supremacists into something more positive.

“For me personally the most important aspect of this fundraiser is to not be merely reactive to the threats made by white supremacists agistators (sic) but to repurpose their provocations and their hate speech to support anti-racist work in our communities – to build up the strength of those organizations and groups that fight systemic racism and inequality on a daily basis,” Berg wrote. “What those of us involved in putting this together like about the fundraiser is that it is subversive – it mocks white supremacists and essentially shoves their hate speech down their own throats, with every word they speak, with every appearance they make, they are actually strengthening the very groups they mobilize against.”

Weineck also discussed the dilemma the University faces when controversial speakers invite themselves to speak on campus. She said the University community is faced with the decision of either legitimizing a dangerous rhetoric with an appearance or giving them the unspoken victory by denying them a space on campus.

“When instigators come to college campuses, they set up a bit of a trap,” Weineck said. “If you treat them a scholar, or like somebody who has something worthwhile and well researched to contribute — if you treat them like that you elevate them. If you block them from speaking ... you elevate their whole narrative about how they’re the victims and they’re persecuted and the campuses and students all hate free speech, so it’s a bit of a Catch 22, and we thought this particular strategy undermines that trap.”

Looking toward the future, Weineck said she hopes the campaign will offer support to minority groups who are marginalized by Spencer’s messages.

“I hope that we can really turn what is meant to be a very divisive and hateful event into a show of community and love even if that sounds a little sappy but to come together to say that we are protecting vulnerable groups from letting someone hate on them we actually turn your nasty dribble against you and every word you say will raise money for people you don’t think belong here,” Weineck said.

Berg shared Weineck’s sentiment and said she wants to see the campaign continue to develop.

“I hope it grows,” Berg wrote. “I hope it gets lots of press. I hope it'll travel to wherever white supremacists attempt to spread their hateful platform of ‘white pride,’ ‘ethnostates’ and ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing’ so we can focus on the real work, the work to change our institutions and make our communities more inclusive, instead of spending our energy keeping Nazis off our campuses, out of our schools and out of our communities.”

Correction: This story has been updated to include quotes from Professor Silke-Maria Weineck.