Reality isn’t Safe: PSSC’s Response to “Milogate and Anxiety-Mongering at Pitt: An Open Letter to PSSC”

reality

[general trigger warning]

Hi Ilya Yashin,

Thanks for your response to our statements published in Filler, which were written more for the active campus Left than they were for the general public (and consequently gloss over important details about Milo Yiannopoulos’s presentation at Pitt). Your response has provided an opportunity for an open and accessible dialogue that bridges the gaps between various social groups, and in that spirit we would like to extend an invitation to anyone who wants to participate in this discussion. PSSC will repost your letter, as well as any other letters that folks may contribute in the future.

Our response is broken into two parts:

1) Reality isn’t Safe
The first section defines and contextualizes relevant terms and systems of oppression in an attempt to (1) make our discussion more accessible, (2) situate Milo’s claims within a broader political movement, and (3) clarify our positions. Concepts include: safe spaces and trigger warnings, hate speech, violence, rape culture, heteronormative patriarchy, white supremacy, legitimacy and social war.

We will respond to the specific requests and points of contention raised in your letter throughout this section.

2) The Divorce of Thought from Deed
The second section aims to explore the concepts of free speech, debate, and censorship. We will also explain our actions within a larger vision for change.

Here’s the video for reference:

PSSC represents a small fraction of the protesters. We do not intend to speak to others’ experiences, nor do we intend to imply a universal understanding of the situation.

We begin from the notion that our identities shape our understanding of the world, and therefore the authors of this response would like to be transparent. We are queer and cisgender folks, poor and wealthy, neuro-atypical and neuro-typical. We are lower-class people of color attending school through our own hard work, as well as privileged white folks with financially and emotionally stable home lives. We are survivors of assault, intersectional feminists, sex workers, socialists, students, and anarchists. PSSC is a forum for communication and collaboration. We use it to coordinate larger efforts and work together because we believe that it will take a diversity of identities, perspectives, and tactics to dismantle the interlocking web of oppression we navigate. And yes, this is all relevant, partly in explaining the abrupt rhetorical shifts, but more pressingly in our treatment of the issues and concepts explored in both sections of this response.

Signed (in alphabetical order),
A. Sid, Amanda, Angel, Annie, Harriet, Marisa, Straw


Reality Isn’t Safe

No word or idea exists in a dictionary-definition vacuum. Everything from the things we say to the places we inhabit make up a broader system of relations, and therefore inherit a complicated social legacy. With this in mind, “Milogate” (awesome term, by the way) has to be examined within a socio-political framework that is grounded in both the contemporary political climate and the historical development of these social relations. Cool? Ok, on with it.

Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings, Hate Speech and Violence
As part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” Milo Yiannopoulos came to Pitt to give a lecture billed as “Free Speech in Crisis.” Milo’s speech challenged what he views as an alarming tendency in the Left to censor offensive or controversial viewpoints, ostensibly under the guise of maintaining safe spaces, or through discouraging open discussion with demands for trigger warnings. Let’s unpack that.

Classroom safe spaces often include trigger warnings to warn students about difficult subjects. Trigger warnings can be likened to epilepsy warnings or food allergy warnings: if something might threaten your health, you would probably like to know beforehand so you can avoid it if you need to. Another example: if you have a friend who is a veteran of the War on Terror, you should probably give them a heads up if your weekend plans include going to a violent movie.*

Since there is a 50% chance that a survivor of sexual assault will develop PTSD, triggering post-traumatic stress cannot be equated to hurting someone’s feelings, as it elicits a physical reaction that threatens a survivor’s health. Contrary to the far-Right’s trolling, “triggering” isn’t synonymous with “offending.” Using the n-word to piss off the “PC police” will merely offend a white anti-racist, but it might trigger someone like the Pittsburgh man who was called racial slurs as he was savagely beaten by five white men, three of whom got off scot-free. Racist violence, including Klan activity (despite Milo’s claim that the Klan is irrelevant, and that Black Lives Matter is the modern equivalent), is pretty common in Pittsburgh.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Unlike some safe spaces, making classrooms safer does not mean prohibiting discussion of sensitive topics or silencing unpopular positions. All it means is that the harassment of students with marginalized identities will not be tolerated, perpetrators will not be allowed to attend the same classes as the people who survived their violence, and that discussions about difficult issues will prioritize the voices of people whose lives are directly shaped and impacted by these issues. The prioritization of these voices does not mean other voices cannot contribute to the discussion, or that any identity group is monolithic. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that within an educational environment, the honest way to open a discussion or debate is to first ground the conversation in the variety of experiences and opinions held by those most impacted.

For example, a student is free to argue that heteronormative patriarchy does not exist during a class discussion. However, if that student then goes on to make personal attacks and insinuate that other students are lying about their lived experiences of discrimination, assault, or harassment, then they will be asked to leave. Such offensive behavior is the real silencing, as it delegitimizes and intimidates already marginalized people.

Often times, if someone is taking up too much space in a discussion of a topic that does not influence their lived experience, they are asked to “check their privilege,” which in this context is shorthand for “this isn’t your daily life, you cannot speak to my experience.” Many conservative men think that privilege-checking is a way to silence a dissenting opinion, ignoring the fact that men talk about 2.5x more than women in class discussions, and that chances are they’re simply not accustomed to giving sufficient time and space for others to speak. But the point here is that there are ways to contradict an academic concept that don’t involve spewing platitudes in an attempt to trivialize someone’s experience: “well, actually rape culture is a myth because you shouldn’t take those jokes seriously,” or conflating threats of violence with mere offensive language: “Pfft, I’m not offended when Trump implies all Muslims hate America, just look at the statistics.” But more on that later.

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Photo: Milo’s autograph on one of the autonomous flyers that was thrown in the air.
Not pictured: comprehension of the point.

At around 45:50, Milo elaborates on his argument against making classrooms safer spaces, offering two ridiculous alternatives with interesting historical legacies:

“Rather than creating so-called safe spaces… it might be better for people who have unfortunate things happen to them to take a year or two or more out of college.”

Instead of making classrooms a place where survivors don’t have to relive trauma in order to participate, Milo would rather have them either attend class anyway, or simply drop out. The first alternative is dangerous, as it means that in order to complete their education, survivors must continually put themselves in psychological and physical danger every time they attend class. Without safer classroom protocol, a survivor of assault can be harassed, called a liar, silenced, or forced to come into contact with a perpetrator. At this point in the lecture, several members of the audience called Milo out on the moral absurdity of his argument and walked out in protest.

Milo’s stance is nothing new. In fact, he is advocating a logic inherited from centuries of misogynist violence. Since the advent of higher education in the 1800s, women (especially women of color) seeking a higher education have faced institutional roadblocks and constant harassment and assault. These barriers did not magically disappear, but continue to this day. Around 1 out of every 4 to 5 women that attend school are assaulted, often coerced into silence through physical and psychological fear, subjected to defamation when they do speak out, and then left alone to choose between letting their grades slide after skipping out on unsafe classes on the one hand, or dropping out to avoid reliving trauma on the other.

Within this same minute or so timeframe of the lecture, Milo goes on to prove that survivors can and will be illegitimized and excluded from ostensibly academic environments. He calls advocates of safe spaces “the most mendacious and dishonest people on campus…” and even singles out actual survivors, like Anna Sulkowicz from Columbia University, as liars. Sulkowicz’s story received national attention when she carried her mattress around campus to protest the administration’s refusal to hold her rapist accountable. For people like Milo, survivors that speak out are probably just attention-seeking “crybabies,” putting themselves in the spotlight because they love alienating their friends and receiving death threats. Since Anna’s perpetrator was never convicted, she must be lying in order to push her agenda of fear and anxiety on women everywhere! Pay no mind to the Department of Justice statistics stating that between 93% and 97% of rapists are never convicted.

When we look at the historical application of discrimination and violence outside of some imaginary academic bubble, we see the real-world consequences that Milo aims to rationalize and perpetuate: many women internalize subservience in the classroom, survivors of all genders are routinely excluded from the university community, and those that speak out are decried as hysterical, entitled brats. But apparently 90% of lawmakers in this country are males because women aren’t interested in getting “practical” degrees, or something. We’ll explore rape culture and patriarchy in greater depth later on.

At 35:15, a man asks,

“Last night, Lady Gaga, who has made her fortune off of pandering to homosexuals and feminists… [stated] that one in five women will be raped on college campus, can you elaborate on how much bullshit that is, please?”

Milo attempts to debunk the sexual assault statistics by claiming that the Left has a “supply and demand problem with bigotry” and they “don’t have enough bigots to go around, so they have to create new ones… and so they widen the definition of sexual assault to include, you know, touching boobs or an unwanted kiss, I mean this is just normal human sexuality.” Milo then backs this claim by saying that anyone who supports these statistics, like President Obama, is deliberately lying.

This is a threat of violence. Milo is telling men in the audience that the definition of sexual assault is a liberal conspiracy, and that assault is just normal, expected human behavior. We’re sure you, Ilya, would claim this isn’t a threat, or misogynist, but merely “an argument.” Two of our friends left at this point in the lecture, collapsed into tears on the pavement outside, and were unable to move until a random passerby helped them to the nearest bench. They recognized the threat, and their stories are not unique. Our Post-Milo Solidarity event statement, which was republished in Filler, was written for them, not you.*

Later in the same harangue, at around 37:30, Milo claims that “there is no basis in science to suppose that gay people are born that way…” despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary. Of course, sexuality is partially situational, but the implication here is that heterosexuality is natural and that deviance is a choice. Absurd statements like these, even when coming from a gay man, attempt to render LGBTQ* identities illegitimate and serve only to rationalize the discrimination that folks continue to experience in employment and many other aspects of daily life. Being gay is not a lifestyle choice, and Milo’s assertion is hate speech.

Around 38:20, Milo is asked why he hates feminists. He explains that “feminists have bred an entire generation of women who have been told lies. They’ve been told they can look like… hideous, monstrous, fat, quivering, horror shows, and that they can still be happy. That’s a lie. No woman will be happy that way.” For Milo, feminism is bad because it might help “ugly” women be happy with themselves. This insinuation is harmful for all genders because it implies feminism only helps women, and only women that don’t adhere to society’s strict guidelines at that. Women looking and dressing how they please, and not how men want them to look, takes power away from men who would otherwise dictate what they should wear, what they should value, and how they should express their sexuality.

The closest thing to an actual argument Milo makes during this sexist diatribe is, “the greatest risk to happiness between the genders is feminism, which is why I rail against it, because it is evil and terrible, and though it had some great accomplishments in the past it is no longer necessary and concerns itself now with man-hating instead of equality.” Instead of citing contemporary feminist authors and public figures to prove that modern feminism is “evil,” he cites phrases that are used primarily for internet trolling, like “masculinity so fragile” and “kill all white men,” as examples of feminist man-hating. Just a few minutes later, and without a hint of irony, Milo praises speech that is offensive to those with power as being one of the major catalysts for change.

Milo’s transphobia is also quite obvious. In an article advocating dropping the “T” from LGBT, he uses multiple transphobic slurs (calling trans men and women “trannies”), claims that transfolk are predisposed to criminal activity, and backs his argument with choice lines like, “If you ask me, when a guy says he needs to cut part of himself off for the world to make sense, we should start with his head.” This is hate speech.

At 54:00, a brave student drops some knowledge about systemic racism and sexism. Milo responds with the same tired, racist platitudes that the right always clings to: “black on black crime,” “although blacks make up only 12% of the population, they make of over half of murderers,” and “Black Lives Matter is basically the KKK.”

Despite Milo’s acknowledgement that slavery was indeed very, very bad, and its legacy continues to this day (deep analysis, bro), these comments are racist as fuck. Milo is implying that the black community is disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system because black people are predisposed to crime, because black people are more likely to be murderers. Gary Younge writes,

America is very segregated, and its criminality conforms to that fact. So the victims of most crimes are the same race as those who commit them. Eighty-four percent of white people who are killed every year are killed by white people. White people who buy illegal drugs are most likely to buy them from white people. Far from being extraordinary, the fact that black criminals are most likely to commit crimes against black people makes them just like everybody else. A more honest term than “black-on-black crime” would be, simply, ‘crime.’

In response to Bill O’Reilly’s similar attempt to link Black Lives Matter with the KKK, Chauncey Devega writes,

Indeed, the ascendant brand of “colorblind” racism that informs this thinking is predicated on the myth that all people and groups in the United States are equally racist. The end result of such thinking is a type of compromise-based politics built on white-washed myth making and empty claims to “diversity,” a cherrypicked reckoning of American history, past and present, that sanitizes the radicalism of the Civil Rights Movement—reducing it, more or less, to a selectively edited version of the “I Have a Dream” speech… the lie of “black racism” stands in the way of the goal of creating a more just and equitable society for all people.

Racism is a sin that is unique to White America. This is not because of arbitrary distinctions of skin color and melanin count, but rather because of the dynamics of inter-group power. And “Black people do it too” is a rhetorical trick that prevents Americans of good conscience from confronting the very specific ways that white privilege and white racism hurts, kills, and otherwise negatively impacts the life chances of black and brown people in the United States.

Ultimately, such distortions and lies are easily refuted:

The Ku Klux Klan was the largest domestic terrorist organization in American history. It is estimated that the KKK and the mass violence it either directly inspired or took part in killed at least 4,000 black people by lynchings, and perhaps as many as 50,000 by other types of white domestic terrorism. The reign of terror inspired and carried out by the KKK, along with other white paramilitaries, was so great that it compelled the great African-American migrations from the South to other parts of the United States—a move that involved at least 5 million people over several decades.

At the height of its power, the KKK controlled entire towns, states, and territories. It was also was one of the preeminent civil organizations and pathways to white “respectability” in the United States during the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries.

There is no equivalent organization in the history of the United States. And there is most certainly not a black or brown Ku Klux Klan in American history. Why not? The United States was founded as a white racial settler state. Its government from before the founding and through to the 20th century embraced white supremacy as the law of the land. No such arrangement of power would ever tolerate a black “terrorist” organization, much less one to match the scope and influence of the KKK. Moreover, those black and brown organizations that tried to resist white supremacy—even by non-violent means—were destroyed, and their leaders killed and imprisoned by the FBI’s COINTELPRO initiative and the broader United States national security apparatus.

It is possible that Milo did not mean these assertions to serve as generalizations of black people. This is irrelevant. Black people are not some monolithic entity, and to insist that a comment must insinuate a hatred of all black people in order to sufficiently qualify as racist is absurd. Many modern, self-identified racists don’t even say that kind of shit anymore. Racism today is subtle, cloaked in out-of-context MLK quotes and near-religious recitations of crime statistics. Besides, Milo’s made plenty of overtly racist comments in the past.1, 2 Oh yeah, and there was that time he teamed up with a literal white supremacist terrorist for a smear campaign against a black man.

At 12:36, Milo’s blatant hate speech against lesbians also serves an agenda. But first, here are some highlights:

“I don’t want women to be drawn into lesbianism, and that is of course how lesbianism works, women [have] a much more malleable sexuality than men do… your government spent $3 million dollars working out why you [lesbians] are all so fat… there’s of course the lesbian domestic violence epidemic, I wrote about in a column called “Attack of the Killer Dykes”… the only one respect in which there a serious culture of rape on campuses… it’s lesbians.”

Research from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) confirms Milo’s claim that the LGBTQ* community is more likely to experience sexual assault, sexual harassment, physical assault and stalking than any other group. However, the study notes that this disturbing trend supports the theory that these higher rates represent “a violent attempt to oppress those who are challenging social norms around gender and sexuality.” This implies that the statistics cannot be blamed on “killer dykes,” and should rather be understood in the context of alarmingly frequent anti-LGBTQ* hate crimes. At 14:15, Milo claims straight men wouldn’t assault lesbians “given how they look.” This is the only evidence he offers to substantiate his claim that lesbians “are raping each other at rates similar to those in the Congo, where rape is a weapon of war”: lesbians are too ugly to be raped by straight men.

In reality, hate speech like Milo’s is spreading this violence against LBGTQ* folks: the homophobic notion that sexuality is a choice fuels the all-too-common perception that lesbians “just need to find the right man,” that they need to be “fucked straight,” and directly influences anti-LBGTQ* hate crimes.

We agree with Milo on at least one point: rape is a weapon of war. Heteronormative patriarchy and rape culture represent a constant threat and imposition of violence used to maintain power imbalances in our society. This is the “War on Women,” one of many frontlines in a broader social war; a war that is raging everywhere from Pitt’s campus to the gentrification of East Liberty, from the racist stop-and-frisk policing targeting neighborhoods like Homewood to the rising tuition rates and shitty wages; the same war that is being waged behind every “academic” “debate” at Pitt.

You write in your letter,

As you can see from the quotes, Milo, in his speech at Pitt, did not mock or otherwise disparage victims of sexual violence who are asking for safe spaces. He criticized the claim that safe spaces are the best way to deal with trauma, and he ridiculed the demand that safe spaces in college classrooms must be provided for sexual assault victims, for the reasons that 1) this has unintended and unfortunate political consequences and that 2) based on research, this does not seem to be the best way to handle trauma. The validity of the research he alludes to is irrelevant because very many things scientists claim turn out to be false anyway; what matters is that he bases his advice (advice, not command) on research, not on his disrespect toward sexual assault victims.

If you’re still not with me on this, here’s an (exaggerated) analogy: Mocking homeopathy as a cure for cancer, or opposing the demands of pro-homeopathy cancer patients that their insurance company cover homeopathy the same way it covers mainstream cancer treatment, does not in any way ridicule or disrespect cancer patients themselves or the harsh reality of their lives as cancer patients. And it also does not amount to telling people what cancer treatment to choose, but only to suggesting that, based on research, one way seems to be better than the other and does not have the unfortunate unintended consequences that the other has.

Does calling safe space advocates “the most mendacious and dishonest people on campus,” singling out specific survivors that want these kinds of spaces just to call them liars, and “advising” survivors to drop out somehow not qualify as mocking or disparaging?

If you’re still not with us on this, here’s an exaggerated analogy literally what happened: Milo is travelling from campus to campus, telling his supporters that sexual assault is normal human behavior, telling women their experiences of rape culture are fabrications, “advising” survivors of all genders to drop out rather than fight for a safe learning environment, bolstering the attitudes of the bigots in attendance, claiming women cannot be happy if they don’t meet patriarchal beauty standards, legitimizing the logic of hate (with the aid of university funding) under the guise of defending “free speech,” and building caricatures of the right-wing’s “enemy” in order to turn the social movements of oppressed peoples into scapegoats for the problems these movements aim to address in the first place. This is hate-mongering.

In your letter you state,

Here’s the definition from the American Bar Association: “Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” If you claim that Milo’s speech at Pitt (or parts of it) meets this definition, please provide direct quotes from his speech that do some of the 21 (because math) things that the definition specifies. I can think of only two instances that, to some people, might meet the definition: Milo’s off-color joke implying that lesbians aren’t sexually attractive enough for straight men to rape them, and claiming that there’s no basis in science to believe that gay people are born gay. If that is the extent of his hate speech, please say so (plus it would be quite nice of you to comment on whether that alone justifies your outrage, feeling unsafe, etc.)

When Milo says people within the LGBTQ* community are acting out a “lifestyle choice,” distorts statistics in order to justify calling lesbians “ugly” “killer dykes,” uses slurs and graphically violent rhetoric in reference to transgender men and women, claims that the Black Lives Matter movement is the modern KKK, and relies on grossly inaccurate generalizations about marginalized identity groups in order to discredit their liberation struggles, this is hate speech for all of the reasons we have already discussed in this letter.

You write,

Suppose a few other white people and I find ourselves in a Pitt classroom full of black people engaged in an academic discussion of U.S. race relations, and afterwards we feel physically unsafe, fearful, and anxious. We’re not making it up, we really really feel it. And if we tell the administration or the press about feeling physically unsafe, fearful, and anxious, should our experiences really be taken at face value and given the same weight as objective evidence? Or should we be outed as implicit racists, educated on race and race relations, and be told that we had no reason to feel physically unsafe, fearful, or anxious? You be the judge.

Here’s a more relevant example: Suppose a few other men and I go to a talk given by a female feminist to a mostly female audience at Pitt, and afterwards we genuinely feel physically unsafe, fearful, and anxious. (We’re not making it up! How dare you accuse us of exaggerating?!) If we tell the administration or the press or anyone else about our distressing experiences at the event, should our experiences really be taken at face value and given the same weight as objective evidence? Or should someone tell us that we misunderstand feminism, that the speaker actually never threatened us or condoned violence against us or any other men, that we misinterpreted and twisted the speaker’s words into something threatening—in short, that our fear and anxiety are unreasonable? You be the judge.

Ok, close your eyes and imagine that fear and anxiety in your hypothetical classroom: the worry that no one will believe you, that there is nothing you can do to prove the threat of violence you know is real. But wait! Maybe you can try to explain how the layout of the classroom stifles your ability to participate on equal footing, cite hundreds of studies to substantiate your claims, and then trace the lineage of your situation throughout hundreds of years of systemic oppression. People might change their minds! But then it hits you: even if you bring these points up, you don’t have the same capacity as everyone else to participate in the class discussion. Besides, suppose you did get the chance to debate anyone on equal footing, mere words won’t change the layout of the classroom. You’re probably just better off hoping that someone slips up and says some shit like “shut up, whitey” or “kill all men”…

…and now picture that as every day of your fucking life.

While your letter was presumably well-intentioned, we’d like to briefly walk you through the world of anxiety and violence that exists outside of your privileged, ignorant bubble.

Rape Culture, Heteronormative Patriarchy, White Supremacy, and “Legitimacy”
In response to our statement, “The reality of campus rape culture is not an opinion, it is daily violence experienced by 1 in 5 of our female classmates,” you wrote:

“You’re right, it’s not an opinion—it’s an argument. It’s the argument that rape culture, “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture,” exists on campuses. Agreeing with an argument doesn’t make it a fact.”

Judging from this paragraph, we’re wondering if you agree with Milo that that the statistics are overblown and inaccurate because of a liberal conspiracy to demonize men and criminalize “normal human sexuality,” and that public discourse does not influence social reality (59:00). Rape culture is an “argument” in the same way it’s an “argument” that women of color were routinely assaulted during the Jim Crow era, were unable to report their assaults out of fear of the police and retaliation, and were often times brutalized and murdered if they tried to hold their attackers accountable.1, 2 We don’t “agree” with an argument, we live through rape culture as a part of our daily lives.

A group of survivors called Order of the White Feather compiled some numbers:

  • 1 in 3 (33%) women are survivors of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. (WHO) This figure is actually low when encompassing all forms of sexual violence, including physical sexual harassment and, what many would consider, innocuous assault, like having your ass slapped, bra-strap snapped, or “copping a feel,” especially during adolescence. Those things do fall on the sexual assault spectrum, and they are traumatizing to varying degrees depending on the situation and individual. Bottom line, they are unwanted, nonconsensual sexual contact. The 1 in 3 I often quote, then, is quite low, as I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t experienced some kind of groping in her life.1 in 6 women are victims of rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives. For the most current rape statistics, read these: RAINN Statistics & Rape Trauma Services Statistics, also read more on The Rape Spectrum
  • 1 in 6 (17%) men are victims of sexual violence. Similar to above. The figure most often seen when calculating the number of men sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. (Source in Canada) (Source in US and Canada)
  • 600 people are raped every day in the USA, one every two minutes. (RAINN)
  • 1 in 3 (30-35%) of men would rape if they knew they’d get away with it. (Source. Plus, second source 11 years later showing the same percentage: Kilpatrick)
  • 1 in 6 or 7 (14-16%) reported cases will ever see the inside of a courtroom. This was a figure given to me by my own sexual assault attorney back in 2012. I took his word for it, especially after all the research I did coupled with my own experience with the police, as well as experiences like this.
  • 1 in 16 (6.5%) men are rapists. 2002 Lisak study, although other studies show as high as nearly 15%, or 1 in 7 men.
  • Only 27% whose assault met the legal definition of rape consider themselves rape victims, so great is the minimization and normalization of sexual assault in our society. (Source)
  • Only 40% of rapes are reported to the police. (RAINN)
  • Between 65% and 85% of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. (Source)
  • 91% of victims of rape/sexual assault are female and 9% are male. (Source)
  • 97% of rapists will never spend even a single day in jail. (RAINN)
  • 98% of reported rapes are true, only 2% are false, which is lower than false reports in every other type of crime. In fact, the 2% is a little high. The actual statistic is 1.5%, and I’ve seen it stated as low as 0.7%, which in my experience is the most accurate. The FBI quotes 8% false, but read this article to see why I choose the lower percentage. Since cries of “false accusation!” are the greatest of The Great Derailers, please read a more comprehensive explanation on my Derailers: False Accusations

Probably the most comprehensive, sobering, and well-known studies are David Lisak’s findings, which is the basis for the excellent Yes Means Yes post “Meet the Predators,” and the recent United Nations study on the roots of sexual violence spanning six countries and two years. This latter study shows, worldwide, a whopping 25% of men (1 in 4) had raped someone in their lives. 1 in 10 (10%) had raped someone who wasn’t their partner.

Some more:
A study by the American Association of University Women found that more than 70 percent of LGBT students encounter sexual harassment at college from fellow students, faculty members and campus employees.

A 2009 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that some schools had designed their victim assistance systems in ways that led to nearly every report being designated as “confidential,” keeping official tallies of campus sex offenses low. Past legislation, including the 2013 Campus SaVE Act, has attempted to fix the Clery Act by expanding the range of sexual-violence incidents that must be reported to include domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. But the legislation did not clarify the requirements that right now allow most sexual-assault reports to fly under the public radar. For now, self-reported (and imperfect) data in campus climate surveys like the one produced by the AAU is the only way for anyone outside university administration to examine the number of sexual-assault reports that schools receive.1

In your letter you state,

“Theft is much more prevalent on campuses than rape, yet we don’t hear claims that there is a campus theft culture, or that challenging such claims amounts to theft apologia or theft denialism, or saying that having precious things stolen is no big deal.”

This is an inherent part of rape culture. The existence of rape culture in this country and on campuses nationwide is due to the normalization of rape, as well as victim blaming and denial of rape by some persons in authoritative positions. Downplaying the criminality of robbery, victim blaming people who have been robbed, and normalizing thievery as just a part of daily life are not common responses to theft crimes, which is why there is no “theft culture. People do not question the validity of theft claims as they do with rape. In fact, 98% of reported rapes are true, only 2% are false, which is lower than false reports in every other type of crime.The aforementioned are reasons behind the existence of a culture of rape versus just the acknowledgement of rape on campuses, as well as other crimes including theft. In addition, cases of reported rape on the Pitt campus have been doubling since 2012, exceeding robbery rates. Cases of burglary have decreased, while cases of rape, as I mentioned, continue to increase. This does not take into account that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 68% nationwide still being left unreported.

At 6:22, Milo says, “you’re not supposed to clap anymore, it might trigger survivors of domestic violence.” Many in the audience applaud, point, and laugh at women that are crying, intentionally trying to trigger survivors. At 28:57, a white man in the audience holds a sign that reads “fuck your safe space”. We already discussed Milo’s insistence that many forms of assault qualify as normal behavior. This is what rape culture looks like. You can read more about the cultural elements here. Although these are more difficult to quantify, our experiences of this culture are legitimate, regardless of any white boy’s whining about the “subjectivity” of harassment.

Here’s a short video that can help contextualize the cultural aspects:

Dictionary.com calls patriarchy “a social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favor men and withhold opportunity from women.” The top definition from Urban Dictionary (and a reflection of our culture) reads, “A term used by feminists, to blame men for all their problems.”

A trailer for a doc about how patriarchy hurts men too:

Black Lives Matter is a liberation struggle. The school-to-prison pipeline, the New Jim Crow of the prison-industrial complex and War on Drugs, the State-sponsored murder of black and brown youth across the country, and the continuation of racialized poverty and segregation constitute a system of racial oppression. These topics and more are worth researching, but you can read a short summary here.

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At a certain point, the argument is over. For the survivors and allies that disrupted the event, there is no debate to be had. Rape culture is a lived experience for many women on campus. Patriarchy and white supremacy are as real as the nearly all-white, all-male United States government.

So let us be clear on at least one point: rape culture, heteronormative patriarchy, and white supremacy are not “ideas” that can be peaceably debated in a bubble on campus. They are a pre-existing reality, maintained through violence every day in this country. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can dismantle the social hierarchies that haunt this country.

Social War

War is the continuation of politics by other means.
– Carl von Clausewitz

Nah, fam, fuck that. Politics is war continued by other means.
– Michel Foucault

(This section has a TL;DR at the end!)
If we’re to give Milo’s speech an honest “radical” treatment, we need to situate his ideas, and Milogate, within the broader social war. Social war is more than just the varying points of conflict between oppressors and the oppressed. It is social because it is built into the fabric of contemporary society. America today is an amalgamation of the power relations that rebrand and reproduce the same disparities that the old society was built on: slavery becomes Jim Crow becomes the prison-industrial complex–white supremacy survives; manifest destiny becomes imperialism becomes the Cold War becomes the War on Terror and Drugs–economic growth remains inseparable from perpetual war. It is social because there is no political solution to be found.

The way radicals see it, “politics” is the negotiation of power that administers government, and is by no means a process of progressing society towards peace, freedom, or equality. Politics is simply the forum that determines the degree of force that the government will use to reproduce existing power relations. Government is the project of finding new ways to rationalize a hierarchical society divided along lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, and a thousand other social constructs in order to prevent these tensions from reaching a boiling point. It is no coincidence that, despite all our “progress,” we really just outsourced the most visible forms of exploitation to sweatshops overseas, to ghettos beneath the freeway, and to the forced-labor of prisoners and immigrants–all in exchange for the luxury of watching helplessly from behind our iPhones as 1% of the population facilitates the destruction of the earth.

This election season, two candidates are emerging from the political “extremes,” siphoning both sides’ anger over the current power arrangement right back into the political process. The elections will determine which side will be favored in the new government’s policy compromises.   Enter, stage right: Donald Trump.

Trump is rallying the far-right elements of the Republican Party against PC culture, immigration, Islamist terrorism, Black Lives Matter, globalism, and the spectre of creeping socialism. Weeks after Trump kicked off his campaign by falsely alleging that Mexican migrants are criminals and rapists, two brothers in Boston beat a 58-year-old houseless Mexican national with a metal pole, pissing on his limp body when they were done. “Donald Trump was right,” they explained to the police, “all these illegals need to be deported.”

Instead of condemning that brutality, Trump excused it by saying “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.” But the problem is less about Trump, and more about the ideological mobilization that has put him in the position to legitimize, and thus encourage, such overtly racist, violent, and proto-fascist tendencies.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

Trump is not acting outside of the ideology and practice of the liberal establishment. With every headline scandalizing his latest xenophobic comment, the Obama administration launches another series of deportation raids. After every Republican’s warmongering, Washington expands the scope of the surveillance state. But Trump’s best contribution to the liberal establishment is probably making the Democrats look legit in comparison.

The real threat is the political realignment Trump is helping set into motion. Everyone from celebrities like Ann Coulter and Mike Tyson to the former leader of the KKK and a white supremacist super PAC from New Hampshire have endorsed Trump’s campaign. He represents a nationalist, youth-driven, anti-establishment reactionary force to be reckoned with. Milo Yiannopoulos is a Trump supporter, and so was a large contingent of the crowd in attendance, as demonstrated by the “Trump” chants and the impressive collection of Trump merch at the event.

That tangent in your letter about the word “crowd” as it was used in our original statement was unnecessary. Of course Trump-bros didn’t make up the entire audience. There were around 30 protestors alone, which clearly indicates the diversity of the audience as a whole. That doesn’t change the fact that Milo legitimized the completely immoral behavior of the crowd of Trump-bros that was present. When would it ever be ok to applaud, laugh, and point at survivors of assault in an effort to intentionally trigger them? Milo is most definitely a magnet for this kind of right-winger, as he himself is a part of Trump’s electoral movement.

The hate crimes incited by the speech of those within this new movement are well-documented. For example, to insist that there is some artificial separation between Trump’s transphobia, the transphobia of Trump’s supporters, Milo’s anti-trans article with the line about decapitating trans folx, and last year’s 13% increase in anti-trans violence (which brought anti-trans hate crimes to an all-time high) is completely ignorant of the ways in which hate and violence spread within a culture.

As we all learned as kids, ideas lead to words, which lead to actions. As Trump spits out hatred against marginalized groups, many members of minority communities are beginning to fear or actually experience upticks in identity based violence [1][2][3]. Again, to call this increase in hate crimes a coincidence is to continue to put up blinders to the reality of social war.

Foreign leaders have called America a nation that prefers evolution to revolution.  This mindset of expecting slow “progress” makes it hard for many Americans to believe that this country could ever change dramatically, or that a demagogic leader could ever embolden a proto-fascist national movement. If you don’t believe that life in America can become radically worse, very quickly, fine. Perhaps this country hasn’t changed, perhaps Trump has just brought America’s intrinsic colonialism closer to the surface.

In recognizing the historical roots of today’s social war within the ongoing white-settler colonial project, we understand that there is no peace.

To quote What They Mean When They Say Peace,

The basic idea is straightforward enough. Real peace cannot be imposed; it can only emerge as a consequence of the resolution of conflict. Hence the classic chant: no justice, no peace.

Left to itself, a state of imbalance tends to return to equilibrium. To maintain imbalances, you have to introduce force into the situation. The greater the disparities, the more force it takes to preserve them. This is as true in society as it is in physics.

That means you can’t have rich people and poor people without police to impose that unequal relation to resources. You can’t have whiteness, which inflects and stabilizes that class divide, without a vast infrastructure of racist courts and prisons. You can’t keep two and a half million people—nearly a million of them black men—behind bars without the constant exertion of potentially lethal violence. You can’t enforce the laws that protect the wealth of good liberals like Governor Nixon without officers like Darren Wilson killing black men by the hundred.

The militarization of the police is not an aberration—it is the necessary condition of a society based on hierarchy and domination. It is not just the police that have been militarized, but our entire way of life. Anyone who does not see this is not living on the business end of the guns. These are the forces of peace and justice, the mechanisms that “keep the peace” in a dramatically imbalanced social order.
[…]
Let us not resent those who get out of hand for reminding us of the conflicts that remain unresolved in our society. On the contrary, we should be grateful. They are not disturbing the peace; they are simply bringing to light that there never was any peace, there never was any justice in the first place. At tremendous risk to themselves, they are giving us a gift: a chance to recognize the suffering around us and to rediscover our capacity to identify and sympathize with those who experience it.

For we can only experience tragedies such as the death of Michael Brown for what they are when we see other people responding to them as tragedies. Otherwise, unless the events touch us directly, we remain numb. If you want people to register an injustice, you have to react to it immediately, the way people did in Ferguson. You must not wait for some better moment, not plead with the authorities, not formulate a sound bite for some imagined audience representing public opinion. You must immediately proceed to action, showing that the situation is serious enough to warrant it.

It should be clear by now that the State and its police do not protect us. Nearly 25% of survivors don’t report their assault because they fear the police. This is especially true for those of us coming from the social margins. Often, survivors from marginalized groups only have their knowledge of their experience, and maybe their friends, to back up and validate the violence that was perpetrated against them.

The criminal justice system is not designed to hold perpetrators of assault accountable because it is largely incapable of conceiving of justice outside of the quantitative defense of property. We cannot look to the decisions of American courts to determine if a man sexually assaulted a woman, or if another white cop murdered another young black man, because their courts and their laws are built on the same capitalist, white-supremacist patriarchy that perpetuates oppression in the first place.

Change will only come through building power on our own terms.

 

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Social War, TL;DR
The American political system functions to rebrand and preserve the inequalities that the State and economy are dependent on. In order to balance the opposing social forces that this inequality creates, the State recuperates dissent into the conventional political channels through the advertising campaigns of its two competing corporations. The conservative corporation pushes the State’s social interests, while the neoliberal corporation pushes its economic interests, and the elections result in a compromise that satisfies the moderates and (partially) pacifies the radicals in both factions. In times of unrest, the State will escalate the level of physical and economic force used to impose the social inequalities, sometimes sacrificing legitimacy of the electoral process. The unrest itself polarizes the general public, and populist movements from across the political spectrum will begin to creep into the mainstream discourse of both corporations. Should the State fail to entertain the populists of both camps, it risks creating space for radical autonomous action.

In this election season, the populists are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Trump’s movement represents the potential for a right-wing political realignment that may develop its capacity to escalate autonomous action, should the State fail to adequately preserve white privilege and heteropatriarchy. Much of their speech represents a physical threat to us. We’re not exactly fans of them either. So instead of relying on administrative power to “represent” the interests of a static identity group’s self-appointed leaders (which is a practice of assimilating the “respectable” members of a group at the expense of the margins), we aim to build fluid communities through acts of resistance that are guided by the logic(s) of collective liberation.

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The Divorce of Thought from Deed:
On Free Speech, Debate, and Censorship

Today Western Imperialism is the imperialism of the relative, of the “It all depends on your point of view”; it’s the eye rolling or the wounded indignation at anyone who is stupid, primitive, or presumptuous enough to believe in something, to affirm anything at all.
– The Coming Insurrection

Freedom of speech means no institution has the right to censor or restrict your right to express your beliefs. For the university, free speech operates within the discourse of a “marketplace of ideas,” the notion that all platforms and perspectives can compete freely and equally in a purely academic environment. Students can buy into the ideas they like, and either debate or ignore the ideas they disagree with.

Students at UNC Chapel Hill are skeptical of this marketplace, and they are worth quoting at length. If the following sounds familiar, it’s because one of the communiqués tossed in the air by autonomous protesters (unaffiliated with any organization) was adapted from a North Carolina “Piece” Corps publication, The Divorce of Thought from Deed, alongside a shout out to the UNControllables.

In “War by Other Means: A trip through the marketplace of ideas on UNC campus,” a student writes:

In a rare moment of accidental wisdom, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1967, “The college classroom, with it surrounding environs, is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas.” Perhaps no better phrase can be found to characterize the social malaise, passive nihilism, and active relativism with which ideas are “debated” on campus at UNC. Here, ideas are not so much exchanged as general commodities, per se, but more specifically bought and sold like gas station candy bars, with all the import, value, and meaning those entail. “You like Baby Ruths more than Snickers? Ok, ok, that’s fine, but why get so worked up about it? It’s only a candy bar!”

Every aspect of this marketplace allusion, or should I say, illusion, is implied in the economic analogy: an isolation from the real physical world of violently conflicting social forces, a consequent lack of moral or ethical urgency, a pretense of equality in the mass media distribution of and financial investment in the ideas themselves, and an ahistorical understanding of the social position which the ideas in question have been assigned to…

An exchange of ideas which occurs with no underlying threat that those ideas might become reality, with no possibility of action, is a meaningless exchange

Specifically, YWC [Youth for Western Civilization] opponents understand that debates around what is and is not white supremacist do not occur in a bubble, but in a society whose entire economic and political machinery was built upon and is maintained by racial hierarchies. Any debate around race takes place somewhere in that hierarchy, which is a structure that is permanently maintained by violence.

This violence isn’t just rhetoric. If students were to talk to Northside neighbors about police harassment, or have some honest conversations with the day laborers Jones Ferry Rd. about the conditions that brought them to the US, this would all be readily apparent. The realities that force people to move here from the Global South, that cause people to take undervalued service work jobs on campus, are all conditioned by coercion and violence. To speak of the “free and equal exchange” of perspectives about immigration in a country where migrant workers die of pesticide exposure and families face deportation, where border walls partition the once-whole territories of indigenous people and private corporations run immigrant detention centers, is laughable. A debate where one side has the power to arrest, imprison, deport, or murder the other side is no debate at all. The “marketplace of ideas” model pretends to freeze these conflicts in order to conduct debate outside of real space and time, somehow removed from a physical world where the fate of migrants is not guided by ideas per se but actually by police, judges, racist vigilantes, bankers, authorities, wealth, power, interests.

Critics of the marketplace of ideas understand that in a country where nearly every textbook, every classroom, and every TV-screened political debate affirm the basic logic of capitalism and the State, the “free and equal exchange of ideas” is a hollow gesture. Given this larger context, most dialogue around “issues” is just a superficial repetition of foregone conclusions, based on the unexamined larger frameworks for understanding that we’ve already been given. This is what passes for “debate” in this society. It should be no surprise that its function is to keep things as they are.

What’s more, what is the point of debate if there is no sanctioned action to achieve the results of that debate? If every xenophobe was suddenly convinced of the barbarity of the Border, would the wall suddenly crumble? We would still find ourselves in a place where our only choices lie between the endless deliberations of useless politicians, on the one hand, and the direct action of our own social forces, on the other.

So this all raises the question: What happens when the debate is over? Do we act then? But what if our acting stifles further debate? Is that bad? When do we act?

The point of the “marketplace of ideas” is to ensure that the debate never ends, so that we never act. Debate only has meaning when we are prepared to act on our beliefs, to take risks beyond those of the classroom. This is why, despite the whining of Thorp and the Daily Tar Heel about the silencing of free speech, debate around issues of speech, immigration, and white supremacy was actually stronger after the events of past April. Debate has substance when it occurs in an honest context that reflects the daily, physical conflicts occurring inside and outside of the University. Discussion and critique must be imbued with the urgency of real life.

It would be interesting to ask what would have happened had anti-racists instead obeyed the expected rules for civil discourse. Tancredo’s speech could have proceeded uninterrupted, while he insulted immigrants and Hispanic culture generally, until eventually students would have gotten their chance to ask him some “hard questions.” He would have answered them politely, the students would feel a small nagging frustration, and everyone would go home peacefully to a world where immigrants are being incarcerated and deported, families separated, workers fired, and migrants killed. Surely little attention would have been paid to the event at all… Capitalizing on its new political legitimacy, the group might eventually have grown large enough to push policy changes at UNC, keeping undocumented students out of the classroom, making sure cops weren’t accountable for any racial profiling, among other things. All the while, the vast majority of UNC students could rest assured that there was nothing important enough to get worked up about…

Thankfully, this isn’t what happened. A tiny spark of excitement and tension was instead injected into campus life, along with the possibility of challenging not just a tiny racist student group but the larger framework of how we do politics.

From the autonomous communiqué:

Just last month in Pittsburgh, Janese Talton Jackson was shot to death for telling a man “no.” Is a woman really as free to express herself as a man, when even a simple “no” can get her killed?

Ideas alone have no intrinsic force. Our capacity to act on our beliefs, not just to express them, determines how much power we have. In this sense, the “free speech in crisis” slogan is strikingly apt: in America, you need capital (and often times some good ol’ white cis-male privilege) to participate, and the more capital you have, the greater your ability to enact the ideas you buy into.

Our Position
Some of those opposed to Milo’s presence are organizing for institutional recourse. Their demands center around punitive action against the individuals responsible for inviting Milo, as well as the installment of new university guidelines that would prevent such a speaker from being invited to our campus again. Though we understand such desires and respect the value of a multiplicity of tactics, PSSC refuses to pursue these goals. Our rationale:

  1. To deny our opponents the right to invite whatever speakers they please is to set a harmful precedent to be deployed against our own speech. As radicals, we realize the capacity of groups and individuals to say what they please cannot be contingent upon anyone else’s demands; whether that outside force be public opinion or institutional repression, using it as a bludgeon to silence debate is a violation of one of the most fundamental tenets of human liberty. We affirm the right of Pitt College Republicans to say what they want, and are merely exercising our individual and organizational strength in response. Our actions, perceived by the privileged as “censorship,” are in reality the true face of free speech freed from ideological constraint.
  2. Reliance on institutional recourse is what divides liberals from radicals. Liberals believe that it is possible to reform institutions — whether schools or markets or governments — to serve the public interest. This well-intentioned faith falls apart upon examining the role of institutions throughout history in neutralizing grassroots movements. From the struggle for Black liberation to the LGBTQ* movement, government action has served for decades to defuse the tension brought about by mass movements while eliciting the bare minimum amount of change needed to suppress dissent. “Democracy,” as it functions in America, is little more than a pressure valve for would-be dissidents: blow off some steam by voting for edgy candidates like Trump or Bernie, and siphon alternative political organizing efforts into establishment electoral campaigns. As discussed in the UNC zine, the university is no different. Our role as radicals is to mobilize the community, for there is no institution on Earth capable of withstanding the weight of popular resistance. A top-down approach will not change the minds of our fellow students who think intentionally triggering survivors is acceptable under any circumstances. These pernicious attitudes can only be challenged through a community-oriented and community-organized approach.

We don’t recognize the State’s monopoly on granting and protecting basic rights, but we do acknowledge its history of taking them away. Should the liberals succeed in “reforming” the SGB and administration in order to censor controversial speakers, we will march side by side with the Pitt College Republicans to defend free speech. Besides, while radicals may have more in common with liberal views around social issues and policies regarding the public sector, we have far more in common with libertarians when it comes to our belief in decentralization, our commitment to our 1st and 2nd amendment rights, our resistance to the militarization of the police and government surveillance, our opposition to liberal trade agreements that outsource jobs and hurt local businesses, 420 blaze it, and especially our hatred of respectability politics and authority. It’s really a shame that so many libertarians are racist, misogynist jagoffs.

Like Milo, we believe that in order to be heard over all the noise and static of outrage culture, you have to be outrageous. That’s why we disrupted him. Our hatred for oppression, our intolerance of intolerance, compels us to act. We knew that this would be the largest far-right gathering on campus in recent memory. We chose to confront those that would treat oppression like something to joke about, to “debate,” to perpetuate. Talk is cheap. Direct action gets the goods.

Solidarity means mutual aid. We must support one another emotionally and materially. The safe space is a tactic in advancing the practice of mutual aid, as it is important for facilitating honest discussion, healing, reclaiming collective memory, and avoiding the bullshit that would derail productive organizing work. But mutual aid means we must also build on our capacity to defend ourselves against fascists and the State.

Solidarity means action. We must educate, agitate, and organize our peers and communities. But we must also diversify our movements, conspire with people from vastly different backgrounds than our own, and inspire action that’s worth telling our children about.

Solidarity means attack. The systems of oppression will not wither away by “raising awareness” about the issues or through gradual reform. Change will only come through disrupting the illusions of “civil debate” and “peace” that disguise the violence of everyday life, through blockading the flow of normalcy that reproduces the logic of the system, through occupying and repurposing capitalist infrastructure in order to win physical ground and organize a material force, and through dismantling the institutions of oppression with a diversity of tactics. We’re not so arrogant as to call ourselves revolutionaries, but we do believe in revolution.

We hope you pick a side and act it out.
Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition

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*Endnotes:

[1] Angus Johnston, a history professor at the City University of New York, said that trigger warnings can be a part of “sound pedagogy,” noting that students encountering potentially triggering material are “coming to it as whole people with a wide range of experiences, and that the journey we’re going on together may at times be painful. It’s not coddling them to acknowledge that.” In February of 2014, students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed a resolution that urged professors among others to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors who present “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” would be required to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes. Mathias Weymar of the University of Greifswald in Germany, conducted a study to identify what happens in the brain when we unintentionally remember emotional moments to better help people who are depressed, suffer from PTSD, or otherwise have traumatic memories that create problems during everyday life. The study found that emotionally evocative cues trigger familiarity-based episodic retrieval even when the brain is not instructed to retrieve the memory. Episodic memory is the memory of events associated with specific times, places, and emotions.

[2] The Post-Milo Solidarity event was hosted to brainstorm ways to build community, not to “prove” the necessity of these efforts. This event helped advance our ongoing projects to compile a list safe-houses, to build a support network that folks can contact if they need help getting away from unsafe situations at parties, and to organize share fairs to distribute free food, clothing, tampons and other essentials to those who need them.

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