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The Daily Tar Heel

Viewpoint: Strategy, momentum and something worth ignoring

Rachel Joyner

Last week, in the deep tradition of American democracy, students in my hometown of Tallahassee, Fla., marched with survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting to demand that children need more protecting than guns. This protest may well have changed the future.

The next day in Chapel Hill, amidst rumors that the KKK was planning a trip to campus, there was an anti-fascist counter-protest that morphed into an anti-Silent Sam march.

It took me a while to think through the difference between the rally in Tallahassee and the counter-protests at UNC. I settled on this: We should not let incendiary voices call the shots. By reacting through counter-protest, we give extremists the power and the momentum they seek. 

In the wake of the chaos in Charlottesville last summer and with news of nine more planned far-right rallies, SNL’s Tina Fey — a University of Virginia graduate — begged, through fistfuls of stress-eaten cake, that we consider strategically ignoring these protesters. 

All forms of protest rely on the delicate art of image making: What are you standing for? Who represents you? What are you resisting? The image conveyed may mean the difference between an observer (read: policymaker) being attracted to your cause or repelled by your tone. To have tangible impact in the world, resistance requires strategy aimed at the head and the heart. The right of free speech in this country is sacred, but the fact that some sully it with grotesque ideas makes it even more important to respond in a measured, thoughtful way. This might mean not responding at all.

When extremists come to campus, they hope to trap all middle-grounders in a volley of hate, anger and shouts, elevating their relevance and blinding the casual observer to the difference between scary demagoguery and principled disagreement.

We shouldn’t give a damn that a small group of ignorant people are being — shocking! — ignorant. If we want to drown out their messages, we should respond with ignorance and hatred’s natural opposites: a blend of informed, compelling arguments and the sort of humanity that transcends anger. At the University of Florida, one Black counter-protester did this when he hugged a fascist protester decked out in swastikas, asking, “Why don’t you like me?” 

Yelling back at fascists tit-for-tat is a misallocation of voices in a time when strong voices are needed more than ever. Instead, as Tiny Fey said, “Let these morons scream into the empty air.”

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