US campuses experience again that free speech is a myth

The rights of assembly and free speech are currently in the public domain right now. Image: Unsplash

The rights of assembly and free speech are currently in the public domain right now. Image: Unsplash

Published May 21, 2024


The rights of assembly and free speech really are in the public domain right now. What’s going on in the United States is something akin to the Vietnam War movement and perhaps can find parallels in the segregation protests of the 1960s.

Nothing stirs up the US quite like division and nothing prevents free speech and the right of peaceful assembly more than division when that division is because one opinion goes against the narrative

The US government says Israel has the right of Self-defence, students on campuses all around the country disagree, or at least, if they don’t disagree on the right of self-defence, they most certainly disagree on the level this excuse has been used.

It isn’t my place to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, the International Court of Justice seems to think these students are right but their government does not.

We are normally allowed to express opinions on what we believe is right or wrong, the beauty of free speech is that others can disagree and, if we chose we can either agree to disagree or we can have a debate about it where I share my opinion and you share yours – in the end, we can still agree to disagree.

But that’s only possible if we are allowed to – it seems in the USA right now, people are no longer allowed to disagree – I live in China and I’ve seen much criticism of the Chinese government, I’ve even seen protests in colleges; in 2022, there were many. Apparently there were over 80 campuses where protests were going on but you know what?

Even the anti-China media can’t find a single case of a student being arrested. Not one charge, not a single conviction or prison sentence – the best we can get for authoritarianism is one report where the police arrived and wait for it… they sent the students home.

Those protests were all over China, not a single report of an arrest – it gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective, in Xinjiang, where 12% of the global population have been misinformed that there’s a genocide going on, we saw extensions of those protests, we watched as video showed hundreds of people storming into the streets protesting about the lockdowns. And again, not one person arrested, no one has been charged and, here’s the most damning evidence yet that China isn’t the oppressed state the 12% think it is. Those people were protesting for a relaxation of Covid restrictions and guess what they got – that’s it, they got a relaxation of restrictions.

Yet, in the USA over the last few days, we’ve seen hundreds of arrests, probably in fact, thousands. University of California Berkley reports a hundred, Yale 45, New York’s Columbia more than a hundred. Emerson on Boston another hundred, Minnesota, only 9, but who knows what the number will be by the time you see it here.

Apparently the feeling is one of antisemitism but, the reality is, it’s one of despair. And this is where the rights of free-speech and the rights of peaceful assembly fall over. Because the protestors opinions are not in keeping with the government narrative.

There may very well be some antisemitic remarks, there may even be some antisemitic actions but the vast majority of people protesting today are not antisemitic, they are anti-murder, anti-genocide and, if we ask them, they will probably 100% agree that Hamas’ actions on October 7th were wrong, but they will almost certainly understand the desperation borne out of many years of peaceful protest and forceful apartheid that created the conditions for it.

The actions of students in America 50 years ago when the Vietnam War was coming to its end are now deemed to have been correct, the Government attempted to stop them and many people were arrested, some even died. The actions of students there 70 years ago when the Unites States was moving from a segregated country to an assimilated one where African Americans were finally recognised as real people who could share a class or a football field with white people are now deemed to be correct. Again, many were arrested, some people died.

And so, the pattern begins again. Many people look at what’s going on in Gaza and agree, it is a genocide, it is abhorrent and protests against it must be loud, they must be forceful and they must be right but we can be sure, there will be more arrests, there are most likely going to be some deaths and at the end of the day, we will look at this and say, those students were right, those police and national guardsmen and women were wrong.

How many more protests are the students of America going to die for before they have their voices heard?

• The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.