Written by Daniel Clayton
Who exactly IS Richard Spencer?
Simply put: another well-educated, middle-class radical conservative cisgender heterosexual white male whose main occupation these days is to preach the gospel of reinstating the power of the white race via means of ethnic cleansing.
Nothing too serious, right?
This is a man who knows how to pick his targets well. Schools like the University of Florida are breeding grounds for budding white supremacists. From allowing student organizations to place nooses in classrooms as a joke without repercussion to making plans to systematically consolidate spaces meant for students of color, UF provides the perfect place for Richard Spencer to come and mold minds. When he first set eyes on the University of Florida on September 12th, he was met with a soft resistive pushback from UF on the basis of the violence that occurred in Charlottesville earlier in 2017. However, Spencer’s advising team was able to threaten UF with a lawsuit based on the grounds that denying Spencer violates the 1st Amendment. Other schools had fought, despite the threat, and succeeded in repelling Spencer, but some, like UF, decided that a court battle was not worth the fight. In UF’s case, that meant settling on a date and footing the bill for over half a million dollars worth of security detail for the day .
For those who are not well-acquainted with Spencer or his views, a very quick Google search will show exactly why students of color at UF were absolutely outraged.
Richard Spencer’s imminent arrival, scheduled for October 19th, sparked a chain reaction of events, one of which was the creation of the movement #NoNazisAtUF, a student-local led movement made to spread awareness about the coming danger and to protest the decision to allow Spencer to speak. Plans were made for the protest to occur on that same day (October 19th).
And that’s how I ended up standing under a shifting sky on Oct. 19 with a multitude of voices screaming at my back, with only one thing waiting for me at the end of the long barricaded pathway to the Philips Center at the University of Florida…
Photo: Washington Examiner
The city of Gainesville had become a war zone overnight. Everywhere, you could see signs that this was not going to be just a regular day at UF. Military police were escorting various administrators in armored vehicles. Snipers setting up bases on the tops of campus class buildings. Auxiliary police checkpoints at every turn. White students on campus had become emboldened by the coming speaker, taking the opportunity to express sentiments of distaste and hatred towards students of color, like when a friend of mine was spat upon by a white fraternity boy in front of the campus library. Our University President’s answer to the approaching doom was not to challenge Spencer and the 1st Amendment’s clear flaw in a court of law. He instead spent over half a million dollars of student tuition fees to accommodate the coming white nationalist threat, all while students of color still had to attend classes that Thursday.
Meanwhile, other students of color on campus took the opportunity to bash those who decided to protest the Richard Spencer speaking event, maintaining that the best way to fight was to “ignore Spencer” and stay home.
Well, obviously, I wasn’t doing that.
I walked into the Philips Center and sat near my friends. I didn’t see the white nationalist speakers, for they weren’t on stage yet, but I saw those who came to support sitting in the very front, leering at the students of color in the back. News cameras and journalists stood at the very back, a buzzing hive of commentary and interviewing as everyone trickled into the auditorium (those who had managed to make it through the barrier). Police stood in the balcony section, assault rifles in hand, alert and prepared to subdue any threat. The lights dimmed, the announcement made that the event was to begin, but I heard none of those words over that speaker because the cadence of my heartbeat had risen to a violent fury that drowned out all senses. Seeing Richard Spencer walk onto the stage that my hard earned tuition is used to maintain brought upon a feeling greater than any rage I’d felt before. Hearing him say things like “white privilege is a conspiracy” while affirming that his call for ethnic cleansing was not necessarily to be done in a peaceful manner, drove my memory to the powerful quote from Assata Shakur:
With everything in me, I joined the rising voices of those nearby me. Each chant, every call, every song, for the entire hour and thirty minutes the event went on for. It was as if our voices were carried on the wings of those who’d fought so tirelessly for us to even be in that very position. In that moment, it didn’t matter how many people said “you’re wasting your time.” It didn’t matter how many people there were who wanted to see the extinction of people of color everywhere in order to preserve the white race.
All that mattered was that Spencer’s rhetoric of hatred be interrupted completely, by any means.
Thankfully, besides a few injuries during the protest, no casualties were accrued that day. But, who says that it will not happen again? If the 1st Amendment protects bigots and white supremacists under the guise of “free speech,” what will stop Richard Spencer or others like him from turning other universities and college towns into another Charlottesville-like tragedy?
It is 2017. We have an openly bigoted white supremacist President in office. Police brutality cases are claiming the lives of black men and women daily. Dozens of cases citing direct racism, such as the events at the University of Hartford concerning the poisoning of Mr. Rowe, are piling up. Collegiate administrations refuse to go beyond lukewarm & white-washed statements of “support” that aren’t followed by concrete actions to protect students of color. If the very institutions that promised to protect us refuse to do so, what exactly can we do to fight the modern encroachment of white supremacy on our college campuses today?
Over the years, students were sold the lie that we are not powerful enough to make a change where we are now. Students of color are assimilated into scenes of respectability politics and become so weakened to the point where they will defend the racist institutions that threaten them most. The key to fighting back is through the return of campus organizing. A good example of this is Concerned Student 1950, a student movement which organized a combined effort to force the president of the University of Missouri to resign because of his refusal to address the myriad of racial injustices on campus.
Student organizers from Concerned Students 1950 at University of Missouri
And, of course, #NoNazisAtUF, the main organizers of the Richard Spencer protest efforts:
Photo from #NoNazisAtUF
I, myself, as well as others on the QBM team, have now had several experiences of our own with organizing on college campuses when administrators fail to protect and serve. It is not easy. It requires stamina, focus, and dedication. Yes, your grades may waver. Yes, you will lose friends because they won’t understand the bigger picture. And yes, you will definitely have those who will claim your activism is performative. However, if you see the need and nobody is rising to the occasion, then it must start with YOU. Find others who believe that a change is needed. Reach out to those on other campuses who have dealt with similar issues. Gain perspective. Plan in earnest. And, whatever you do, stay committed to driving change beyond demonstrative events. The key is to ensure that sustainable changes, such as policy revisions or administrative change, occurs as a result of your actions.
While it may seem pointless to even try, remember that we are the face of the future. We, the millennial generation, hold the keys to unlocking the potential this world has yet to see. If we don’t make it our mission to revolutionize the spaces we inhabit in such a way that everyone is free and safe, then we’re failures.
Remember the words of the great Zora Neale Hurston: