“Suppressing pro-Palestinian protests does a disservice to the future of American politics”

I have long eschewed a narrow conception of democracy as arising solely from electoral politics. I am thus posting my Op-Ed which seeks to draw out the political value of pro-Palestinian assembly, while arguing that debating the words that have been used by students involved with pro-Palestinian groups obscures more than it illuminates. Most importantly, as we have seen this past week, it obscures that “the true threat these campus protests pose is not to their fellow students but to college administrators and their donors . . . [and] that this threat arises not from the words spoken but from the size, scope, and persistence of acts of gathering and organizing.”

“The value and power of assembly have little to do with the message conveyed. When people gather, including when they gather outdoors in the public square for political ends, they rarely, if ever, offer reasoned argument or debate. They chant. They sing. They hold handmade signs. They make demands—frequently ones that are overstated, conflicting, unrealistic and incoherent. Their chants and signs can be clever, but they can also be shocking, hurtful and even threatening. In our liberal tradition, all this is protected so long as it is not an incitement to violence, but it is easy to understand why none of it seems particularly valuable.

What is valuable are the political returns of the act of assembling. Gathering together reinforces social ties and social solidarity. It allows for the formation of collective identities and forges embodied and agentic experiences of citizenship. Assembling is also a politics of presence—one that allows individuals and groups to demand civic and political recognition and inclusion and can upend public narratives, political priorities, social and economic patterns, and, in certain circumstances, regimes.”

Not explored in this Op-Ed is how the McCarthyist reaction to that threat, as others are beginning to notice, poses its own distinct threat to our universities and our democracy.

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