How the Democratic party is hurting itself by betraying young voters and failing to defend free speech

How the Democratic party is hurting itself by betraying young voters and failing to defend free speech

The New York Times reports:

It’s a nightmare scenario for Democrats: Protesters disrupt their convention this summer; they clash with the police; chaos seems to take hold.

It may not be imaginary. As protests over Israel’s war in Gaza continue to intensify, especially on college campuses, activists are preparing to be in Chicago this summer for the Democratic National Convention.

The very idea sends some Democrats right back to 1968, when their convention, also in Chicago, was overshadowed by infighting and violence between the police and antiwar protesters. Back then, many voters watching the nightly news got the impression that the party could not control its own delegates, never mind a country that was wrestling with an unpopular war.

Protests over the Israel-Hamas war could also complicate this year’s convention and the Democratic messaging for President Biden, whom Republicans have eagerly cast as too indulgent of chaos and disorder in American society. Last week, Fox News and other conservative outlets repeatedly showed demonstrations that made the country seem on the edge: Columbia University sending in the police to arrest students on campus; protesters shouting “genocide!” at President Biden at a campaign stop; demonstrators chaining themselves to cars to block traffic, creating gridlock.

“The whole Republican message is, ‘The world is out of control and Biden is not in command,’” said David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist and adviser to former President Barack Obama. “They will exploit any images of disorder to abet and support it.” [Continue reading…]

Lydia Polgreen writes:

[Columbia’s president, Nemat] Shafik wrote to the N.Y.P.D. requesting that officers clear the quad, declaring the protests “a clear and present danger” to the university. If there was danger, the police seemed to struggle to find it. In remarks reported by The Columbia Daily Spectator, the Police Department’s chief of patrol, John Chell, said that there were no reports of violence or injury. “To put this in perspective, the students that were arrested were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever, and were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” he said.

For the students I spoke to, the invocation of safety was especially galling because the arrests themselves were an act of violence, and the fact that many students reported receiving emails informing them that they were suspended and temporarily barred from their dorms, effectively rendering them homeless.

“The only violence on campus was the police carrying people away to jail,” one student told me. “It was an absolutely peaceful protest. Last night we had a dance circle. There has been nothing aggressive or violent.”

Others told me they felt Shafik’s message was clear and chilling.

“Some people have space to have pain,” one student at the protest outside police headquarters told me. “Others don’t get to have pain.” She said Muslim students, along with Arab and Palestinian students of all faiths, had been unfairly targeted on campus, describing an incident in which a private detective showed up at the dorm room door of a Palestinian American student.

Another student chimed in: “There is no hearing in Congress about Islamophobia.”

The previous day, Shafik had prostrated herself before the bad faith brigade that is the Republican-led House of Representatives. In testimony before the House’s education committee, Shafik seemed determined to avoid the fate of two other Ivy League presidents whose shaky performances led to their ousters. She intimated that she would not hesitate to discipline pro-Palestine professors and students for speech, and suggested that using the contested chant “from the river to the sea” could be cause for disciplinary action on its own.

In a world where almost any kind of advocacy on behalf of Palestinian self-determination risks being interpreted as antisemitism or a call for the destruction of Israel, her statements cast quite a pall. Her actions on Thursday drew instant rebuke from professors and other defenders of free speech on campus. [Continue reading…]

Will Bunch writes:

This week’s jarring news out of the University of Southern California that its Muslim valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, would not be allowed to give her upcoming commencement speech because of what the school called “safety concerns” — after some critics had singled out some of her X/Twitter posts over Palestine — gave the rest of America a window into what students and some of their professors have been saying for months: Free speech and political expression at U.S. universities is facing its greatest threat since the 1950s “Red Scare” and the heyday of McCarthyism.

Two Carleton College professors who write frequently and host a podcast around questions of academic freedom actually argue the current crisis is even worse than that dark era.

“We’re both historians and so we don’t use this term lightly,” the Minnesota-based professors Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder told me by phone. “The threats to free speech and academic freedom are unprecedented.” Their recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education — “Student Activism Is Integral to the Mission of Academe” — argued that the role of college since the 1960s as an incubator for powerful social and political movements is now endangered by “shut up and study” critics who see campus protests as an unwarranted distraction. [Continue reading…]

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