Maturity and cool-headedness are not words
I would use to describe the level of discourse on campus.
Universities are supposed to be dedicated to the exploration of
ideas, but certain organizations do not believe that such discovery
should take place here. Chief among those groups is BAMN —
but bear with me for a minute.
I don’t mean for this to be another mindless attack
against the organization, but I also realize that for what
I’ve already said, I’m going to receive irate e-mails
from BAMN members who will in essence call me a racist (they will,
of course, conveniently forget to mention that the Black Student
Union has had a less-than-rosy relationship with their
organization). I’ll also likely receive complimentary e-mails
from members of Young Americans for Freedom and writers for The
Michigan Review, thanking me for attacking BAMN’s
intimidation tactics, and they will use this column by a liberal
editor at the Daily as further proof that all their ideological
opponents are crazed hippies. I write this column, however, to
challenge the most dangerous and vocal opponent of liberalism at
the University: BAMN.
BAMN volunteer Luke Massie, who is known to volunteer 60 hours a
week for the group despite never being a student at the University,
has said that BAMN is a Trotskyite organization, which by
definition means that it is not liberal. It has the same mailing
address in Detroit as the Revolutionary Workers League, which is an
openly Trotskyite organization. The RWL in turn, has had an
identical membership as the National Women’s Rights
Organizing Committee, another group with an interesting history.
But I digress. In fact, I do not think the label of revolutionary
socialists fits BAMN all that well; I would characterize them more
as a collection of elitists than civil rights advocates. Reading
what their members and supporters have written on this page in the
last week alone leads me to believe that they feel the state of
Michigan would be better off if certain unsophisticated whites did
not vote. To be fair, BAMN members do not ever articulate this
position outright, but the attitude that they know what’s
best for the state and that everyone else is a clueless racist
lurks just beneath their “progressive” rhetoric.
University alum Jonathan Chait pointed out in The American
Prospect in 1995 that in these radical groups’ fight for
civil rights, liberal concerns such as civil liberties, academic
freedom and even the Bill of Rights are expendable. In the late
1980s and early ‘90s, the closest parallel to BAMN on campus
was the Marxist United Coalition Against Racism. During that time,
the UCAR convinced the University to draw up speech codes to censor
campus debate. One version of the codes called for punishment for
those displaying Confederate flags on dorm room doors, and/or
making statements like, “Girls are not as good in this
subject area as men.” The federal courts wasted no time in
striking down this code, and the U.S. Supreme Court later said that
it would not tolerate such codes.
Liberals on campus now fight to preserve English 317: How to Be
Gay, but just over a decade ago, so-called civil rights activists
forced the cancellation of two sociology courses taught by Prof.
Ren Farley, who merely quoted from material a student found
offensive in a course on race relations, and Prof. David Goldberg,
who was bullied into canceling his course without even receiving a
hearing. I have been unable to confirm any clear connection between
BAMN and the UCAR, but the former’s tendency to interrupt
meetings and press conferences reveals an ideology similiarly
opposed to civil liberties.
But besides these differences in worldview, unlike radical civil
rights organizations in the past, BAMN has been unsuccessful in
achieving civil rights victories. In Monday’s viewpoint in
the Daily, BAMN organizers Kate Stenvig and Cyrl Cordor wrote,
“We won this stunning victory for affirmative action and
civil rights because we mobilized.” They actually believe
BAMN is responsible for last summer’s Supreme Court ruling in
favor of the University. They forget that their lawyers were not
permitted to argue before the court and that their position that
affirmative action is necessary to right historic discrimination
has never been upheld by the courts. But just ask members of other
student groups how they feel about BAMN taking credit for the
accomplishments of others.
More importantly, BAMN focuses exclusively on affirmative action
and is now leading a boycott against Coors Brewing Co. Stenvig and
Cordor wrote, “In 2003, the critical civil rights issue
facing the nation was the defense of affirmative action at the
Supreme Court in our affirmative action cases.” And surely it
was the most prominent issue, but the number of minorities who
benefit from affirmative action and a Coors boycott is too small to
be at the heart of any effective civil rights movement. Why
doesn’t BAMN work to eliminate differences between blacks and
whites in homeownership rates, health care quality, pay,
unemployment, U.S. drug policy or segregation? These affect
millions more people than affirmative action.
Maybe my main point of contention with BAMN is that I’m
still naïve enough to think people can discuss issues in a
civil way before resorting to more extreme tactics. Or maybe
it’s just that I’m a liberal.