What if Civil-Rights-Era Protesters Had Demanded Safe Spaces?

(Image via Twitter)

Much has been made this week of a University of Missouri student-activist group’s demanding everything from their university president’s resignation (he obliged) to the walling off of public spaces on campus in support of a student going on hunger strike. But in attempting to duplicate civil-rights-era protest movements, the campus group calling itself “Concerned Student 1950” (CS1950) is not only diminishing the accomplishments of that era but making enemies of those they depend on the most for their messaging: a sympathetic media. As students attempt to prove their activist bona fides at the behest of our social-justice president, whose White House leapt to their defense, most lessons from the era they are attempting to emulate are being tossed aside.

The media at large, including ESPN personalities, tweeted and offered messages of support when the Missouri football team threatened to boycott their upcoming game against Brigham Young University this weekend. (Their boycott would have potentially cost the university $1 million in penalties.) The team joined CS150 in protesting “systematic racial injustice,” which would somehow be remedied with the scalp of the university president, Tim Wolfe. What the team should still be protesting is the Colorado Buffaloes’ getting a fifth down and going on to defeat it in their 1990 game. That was actual proven, real injustice.

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Unlike the civil-rights era demonstrators whose mantle these students would like to assume, theirs is a culture of protest fed in large part by a bored and relatively coddled generation under the misguided belief that they are growing up in a world without a purpose of their own. Therefore a purpose has to be created and history misread. This behavior can’t be wholly blamed on the younger generation — professors tasked with educating them should know better.

This behavior can’t be wholly blamed on the younger generation — professors tasked with educating them should know better.

The form their protest has taken is summed up well in a now-deleted tweet from the CS1950 Twitter account pontificating that “it’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces.” The irony of a progressive campus group agitating for racial justice with calls for preserving “black spaces” after their activist forefathers sacrificed so much fighting against desegregation cannot go unnoticed. As Charles Cooke noted on Twitter, Rosa Parks was one of the first to take a stand against black spaces. Governor George Wallace, on the other hand, believed that blacks should have their own private spaces on a college campus.

RELATED: Missouri’s Lesson: The Campus Wars Are About Power, Not Justice

In another ironic turn, the movement, which professes to be inspired by the anti-police rallies in Ferguson, went so far as to threaten to call the police if media continued to try to invade their “safe space” (i.e., the grounds of a public university where they were demonstrating). In an attempt to respond to supposed safety concerns, MU police sent out a campus-wide e-mail urging students to report any hurtful comments directed at them to the police. That’s the same police the student group claimed had brutalized them just weeks earlier:

The student movement of the 1960s demanded television coverage and was successful largely because of the stirring images of students and activists on the wrong end of fire hoses and attack dogs. As with all successful protest movements, it depended on breaking through to the empathy of those who normally couldn’t be bothered to pay attention — which makes CS1950’s agitating against media coverage of their actions all the more bizarre.

#share#The only person being visibly oppressed in this week’s events was campus photographer and Missouri senior Tim Tai, who was not only shoved and blocked by students, but by a media-studies professor at the university, the now-infamous Melissa Click. She demanded “muscle” be called in to remove reporters, to the chants of  “Hey, hey,  ho, ho, reporters have got to go.”

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This is the one thing protesters could do to antagonize the media, who are generally fine with protest movements turning into riots as long as their ability to produce a narrative isn’t trampled in the process. As Jon Gabriel from Ricochet noted, media on the ground don’t mind protesters torching neighborhoods and private businesses that simply get in the way, but block the reporters’ cameras and campus social-reform movements are likely to find themselves on the other end of a very short and very sharp media stick, as pro-life and pro–Second Amendment movements have in the recent past.

Last week, the country and our media were demanding that public spaces, including women’s restrooms and locker rooms, be open to all. This week, apparently, private “safe spaces” in public areas must be acknowledged and respected by everyone including media.

#related#Campus groups like Black Lives Matter and CS1950 don’t seem to understand that this is not Selma and this is not Berkeley. If an activist group claims that what they are fighting against is systematic oppression, and they are doing so on the public grounds of a university where they attend and are able to speak freely, then they aren’t systematically oppressed.

If there turns out to have been a watershed moment when the far-left culture of protest became too much for even our narrative-happy romanticized-riot-loving media to stomach, the actions of CS150 and sympathetic faculty this week might have been it. 

— Stephen L. Miller is a writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. He publishes The Wilderness, which focuses on viral politics and social media​.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece stated that the group Concerned Student 1950 had sent out an e-mail urging students to report hurtful comments to campus police. In fact, this e-mail reportedly came from the police themselves.


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