The discussion and debate over Free Speech is both a national and campus wide headliner of today. From the white supremacists protests in Charlottesville, North Carolina this summer to both Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter’s failed appearances on Berkeley campus, along with all the protests leading up to Free Speech Week, it is starting to feel like the campus, the media, and the rest of the world is just waiting to see what will happen next.
We wanted to add a positive outlet for discussion around free speech on our campus. We decided to study the walkway leading up to Moffitt and the Free Speech Movement Cafe, an already political space that honors Mario Savio accomplishments in establishing free speech in the 1960’s.
On Thursday September 21st 2017, we printed the transcript of a portion of Ben Shapiro’s speech onto three large pieces of paper and posted them on the BCNM wall, along with Sharpies. We then sat in a corner to observe how the public would react to them.
In the beginning, most people stood quietly in front of the posters to read the scripts. After one girl stepped up to circle some texts and write down her opinions, more started to interact with not only the text itself but also each other people's comments. Later of that day, people surrounded our intervention, waiting in a line to write down their thoughts, and discussing their options with other strangers around them. The posters opened up a dialogue, and we heard people commenting that, "this is so much better than protesting! We actually get our voices heard, and we debate in a more meaningful way. "
In a reflection from the critique process on Wednesday, we see how our experiment almost functions as a “public service” -- or almost as another news outlet or opportunity. We wonder if there are other outlets around campus for similar iterations of our project to be effective — and also, whether certain locations on campus might target different audiences, and different interactions, with our poster. It was also interesting to observe how the majority of students knew about Ben Shapiro and knew whether they supported him or not, but very few students knew concrete details about Shapiro’s stances.With this, we wonder what other speeches, or works of literature, could bring about such important discussions.