Guest Opinion: Vulnerability is more powerful than hate

On the icy, though jubilant Friday at the end of fall finals week, I meandered with mild curiosity to the EMU Walnut Room to see what my friends described as “a bunch of Nazis.”

On the icy, though jubilant Friday at the end of fall finals week, I meandered with mild curiosity to the EMU Walnut Room to see what my friends described as “a bunch of Nazis.”

The word “Nazi” isn’t a term that I take lightly, though I doubted that there was any literal connection between the speakers hosted by the Pacifica Forum and the white supremacists I’ve seen portrayed in movies like American History X.

This is why I was shocked when presenters, along with several audience members, sieg heiled in the middle of the forum and showed a video of the feature speaker, Jimmy Marr, marching with white supremacists in Arizona as fellow demonstrators yelled “Death to the Jewish traitors.”

Recovering my wits in the hallway after witnessing this gross display of racism and xenophobia, I felt camaraderie with a DPS officer who looked a little nauseous. “At least I got paid to be here,” he muttered.

As it turns out, most people don’t really like neo-Nazis. Nonetheless, Nazi-sympathizers congregate regularly in our student union because of a policy that allows former professors, such as Pacifica Forum founder Orval Etter, to book rooms on campus free of charge. Pacifica members tout the organization as a forum for free speech, but over the last two years the Friday afternoon meetings have hosted a rather narrow array of holocaust deniers and white supremacists.

Student Katie Hulse, like me, went to her first Pacifica Forum meeting last Friday without knowing the full extent of the off-campus organization’s radical right ideologies.

“It’s easy to call someone Nazi fascist without actually listening to them first,” Hulse told me in an interview Tuesday.

She didn’t know Friday that she would become the center of the event’s most heavily publicized confrontation.
Hulse questioned Pacifica speaker Valdas Anelauskas about calling feminist theorist Andrea Dworkin “too ugly to rape,” and the rest is history: Anelauskas told Hulse, “Don’t worry, you are not ugly,” (Read: You are pretty enough to rape) and Hulse confronted him in tears: “You’re making me feel unsafe.”

Most people don’t really like neo-Nazis, so debate surrounding the Pacifica Forum is less, “Do we like them?” and more, “What do we do with people we don’t like using our student union?”

Hulse responded with poignant emotion. “I just wanted to say: ‘You are a human, and I am a human, and your words do not express the reality of sexual violence in the world,'” Hulse told me. “I feel that you need to approach people on a personal level instead of just yelling, ‘I hate you, you’re a fascist.'”

I tend to agree with Hulse’s approach, if only because it is finally drawing the sort of outrage warranted by the Pacifica Forum’s two-year parade of ugly-isms and phobias. “It’s interesting that it got blown up because someone was crying,” she said. “What does it take to mainstream a political movement?”

While the protest last Friday displayed a variety of valid responses—reasoned, emotional, and angry—to racism and sexism on campus, Hulse’s experience is a reminder that standing up against hate speech isn’t just a political debate; it’s about creating a safe space for a diverse student body. Sometimes vulnerability is more powerful than anger.

Whether we have a common enemy, like the Pacifica Forum—which seems to offend every group of people that isn’t the Pacifica Forum—we should keep talking about the pervasive reality of discrimination and sexual assault in our own community. I get pissed every time I think about neo-Nazis with their straight-armed salutes and sieg heils in my student union, but something good should come from the very public display of the quiet prejudices that still cripple social progress.

My preferred approach to Nazism aside, I see beautiful potential in all of this ugliness. In response to the hate speech masquerading as “free speech” at the Pacifica Forum, an organic, genuine forum for free speech has emerged among University students and the broader community of Eugene. This week, I see people defining their perspectives on racism and sexism on the Internet, on the street, in the café and in the classroom.

This is our moment to show the Pacifica Forum what free speech actually sounds like, and I encourage everyone to do so if and when the organization returns to campus Friday.

*This article was originally published in the Daily Emerald and is printed here in its original form.