by Abby Streu, William & Berniece Grewcock Intern Scholar
Leftist pushback is inevitable for bold conservatives at liberal universities. My own college, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is no exception. Leftist disruptions are not new—the campus has experienced a plethora of left-wing demonstrations and conflicts, stemming back to anti-Vietnam protests and riots, which climaxed with a bomb being set off in our math research center. While no one is presently setting off bombs on campus, leftist students have continued the nationwide trend of protesting conservative ideas. As soon as a conservative group or speaker begins articulating their views, leftists set about stopping what they perceive as a threat to their pristine bubble of utopian delusions.
My first semester leading the UW Young Americans for Freedom chapter was inaugurated with a slew of bureaucratic obstacles, media frenzies, and… sex toys.
As part of our work to advance freedom’s principles at UW-Madison, the UW Young Americans for Freedom hosted Katie Pavlich for a lecture about the Second Amendment rights of Americans. In response, a feminist at my university chose to publish a bizarre press release claiming that UW-YAF were “white supremacists” and “promoting campus rape” because we were hosting Pavlich. She called for a “protest” on UW-YAF and named her weapon of choice: colorful sex toys. Plans for the protest, called the “sex arts festival” on Facebook, encouraged students to create explicit artwork to protest guns. Soon after, I received an email from my university’s police department stating that we could not have the public attend our lecture unless we found a faculty department to co-sponsor the program.
When encountering leftist pushback, the most important piece of advice I can extend to you is to remain calm. Do this in every situation and in the steps that follow. Your first instinct may be to freak out. Cry, scream, stress eat within the confines of your dorm room or therapist’s office, but you need to remain calm and channel the energy into a well thought out and measured response. You are not only representing yourself (which is important), but you are also representing your Young Americans for Freedom chapter, every other YAF chapter in the United States, and Young America’s Foundation. You make these institutions look professional when you are professional. While you may be able to justify freaking out in a difficult situation, handling everything with the appearance of ease puts yourself ahead of your peers.
1. At the outset of any situation, contact Young America’s Foundation. Do this before the media tracks you down (and they will). When the press got wind of each of the obstacles we faced before the Pavlich event, I found myself scrambling to appear on local radio shows, answering media requests, and frantically emailing the few conservative professors at my university seeking help. Katie Pavlich took to Twitter to stand up for our chapter and her upcoming lecture. But Young America’s Foundation went the extra mile. Their spokesman, Spencer Brown, aided me in my media responses, wrote articles and press releases for the New Guard about the situation, and handled the more-hostile media outlets.
2. The next thing you should do when facing leftist pushback is to be prepared. Anticipate what will or could happen. I had fair warning of the pushback I was receiving for the Katie Pavlich lecture, giving me some time to prepare before the leftists went public with their plans. I understood the situation, based off the threats, administrative hurdles, and the reactions we had experienced during previous events. Understand your university’s affinity—or lack thereof—toward conservative ideas, and you can typically gauge how leftists will respond to your events and whether your school with support for First Amendment activities. Draft statements ahead of time so your emotions don’t color what you say to media or the leftists. If you know there will be protests, see if you can determine a strategy to minimize disruptions.
3. The last step to dealing with leftist pushback is to determine your opponents’ shortcomings, collect information on their past actions, and expose their hypocrisy.
The night of our Pavlich lecture, it was pouring out. As I approached the our lecture venue, I noticed about a dozen damp protesters huddled under an overhang attached to the building. They did, in fact, brandish their explicit signs and objects. On occasion, their ring leader would bellow out “Tell me what democracy looks like!” This would be met with a small chorus of voices screeching back “This is what democracy looks like!”
Inside the event, there was not a single leftist that I could discern. Reports afterwards noted that the majority of the audience was in agreement with what Pavlich’s said. The protesters did not stay for the event. Not a single dissenter asked questions. You can bet we highlighted this in follow-up interviews. The protesters, who claimed YAF was being divisive with our lecture, were in fact the divisive ones.
We also flung the hypocrisy back at the protestors by pointing out the flaws in their argument. They believed that firearms promote campus rape. My treasurer, however, told the protestors that her friend was raped on our campus and was not able to defend herself. She guaranteed that the friend would have at least been able to fight if she had been allowed to carry. This exchange was recorded and multiple media groups in our state (and some national commentators) shared the clip.
Leftist pushback can be frustrating and stressful for everyone in a YAF chapter, but you have nothing to fear from these people. When the pushback hits you, stand and fight—you have every right to share your ideas on campus. What is the point of believing in a cause or holding onto values if you are not willing to defend them when they are attacked? As an activist, you are there to make an impact. Do just that.