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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fallout Still Occurring in Wake of College Republican Game

The California Aggie reported yesterday that discussions were held in the ASUCD Senate regarding the actions by the Davis College Republicans in their now infamous but aborted capture the flag game. The gist of this discussion was an insistence by the DCR members that their actions were "misunderstood" and "misconstrued" that they were not "racist" and that their rights were violated. Many of the members perceived that there were threats against them.

A couple of quotes from the Aggie.
"Street theater is a common technique used to propel a dialogue," said Allison Daley, DCR chair and a sophomore political science major. "Our First Amendment rights were seriously violated."

Daley said she has received over 50 "threatening" e-mails since the DCR event and does not feel safe on campus.

Several students said DCR members were unfairly being stereotyped as "racist," "white" and "upper-middle class."

Aaron Saltzman, a senior international relations major, said DCR harbors no racism.

"We're very concerned, we're very troubled, because we don't hate someone of a different skin color," Saltzman said. "I'm Jewish. And I, too, am also concerned about racism and prejudice … so I can empathize. But when we're accused of being racists as a group, unconditionally, simply because we think illegal immigration is bad, that turns legal and political dispute into a matter of … hatred that demonizes ourselves."
As I have previously expressed with this issue, I agree that their first amendment rights were violated by an angry mob and that was not right. Nor is it right that members of the group have received threats.

I also think Jorge Jimenez a UC Davis alumnus quoted in the paper is exactly right.
"While you have a right to express racism, based on ignorance, then I have the right to call you what you are. And I have the right to say that this society is hurt by those ideas and those views... The problem is not my perception of your racism, the problem is your racism, and I will do whatever it takes to defend the defenseless."
People have the right to free speech, they also have the right to be criticized based on what they say. In short, the DCR has opened themselves up to the charge of racism. Is that really what the DCR was hoping to accomplish?

Here are my thoughts on the incident.

First, the question about racism has been raised. My thought is that word has been largely overused in society. It is not that racism doesn't exist, it is simply that racism is not the only driving force in people's views. It is possible to oppose illegal immigration without being a racist. It is also possible to be completely insensitive without being a racist. It is possible to be demeaning to people without being a racist. There is nothing inherently racist about the game. You do not have to hate Latinos to perform all of the actions and statements made by the DCR regarding illegal immigration. Therefore, I find that label unuseful.

That said, that doesn't mean there are not racist and xenophobic undertones that have underlied this debate. There has been a long history of nativism in this country and at least some of that has been fueled by xenophobia which is in short, a form of racism. By turning the debate into a game of capture the illegal immigrants, the DCR has handed their opposition the r-word and given it some legitimacy.

Second, the game itself was inappropriate for the college setting. It makes light of a very serious situation and it trivializes the actions of others.

Third, one must question the wisdom behind the game. It was unlikely to change anyone's mind. It was much more likely to anger people and polarize opinions. The only people likely to have sympathy for the game itself were people likely to be in their corner to begin with. Therefore, from a political standpoint it was not likely to succeed at its most basic intended goal to draw attention to what the DCR perceived was an important problem in a meaningful way that might be able to sway people.

Fourth, as many have suggested, the Republican party severely damaged itself in the pushing of Proposition 187 despite the fact that it passed in 1994 by wide margins. If anything, games like this are likely to harm the Republican cause by making them look like a bunch of extremists.

There was a good letter to the Davis Enterprise yesterday from Cristina Gonzalez.
"A conversation about immigration issues would have been appropriate and welcome. A game that dehumanized undocumented immigrants and made light of their troubles was not, particularly when this game was scheduled to coincide with the campus' Hispanic celebrations. This was not a comment on immigration, but a provocation against Latinos.

It appears that the College Republicans who participated in this event were not interested in substantive debate. Rather, they wanted to play a game that wasn't funny to many members of the community.

Whatever our political convictions, I think we all would like to see members of the younger generation learn to use their freedom of expression with respect and consideration. The College Republicans who caused this painful disruption made an unfortunate mistake. They should reflect on it and find more mature and professional ways of interacting with the campus community in the future."
The DCR has defended their actions through the veil of free speech. Unfortunately the mob has unwittingly played into that defense by denying them their lawful right to free expression. The lesson that the DCR has learned from that is the wrong lesson. What they need to learn is that there are proper ways to exercise free speech and then there are ways that will get them ridiculed, ostracized, and get their message misconstrued. This played right into the hands of those who believe that anyone opposing illegal immigration is indeed a racist.

In short, this game may play well to the base that is angry already about the issue of illegal immigration, but when you are a small minority both on campus and in the community, it is more likely to anger people than it is to convince people. It leaves open the charge of racism, even if the charge is not completely warranted and it plays into the negative stereotypes that students have about the Republican party. In other words, there was probably a no more damaging thing that the DCR could have done to harm their cause short of having a lynching party and dressing up in sheets.

People may have the right to free speech, but that does not mean they should say everything that pops into your head. When you insult people's sensibilities, it does not bring people to an understanding of your position. Rather it makes people angry and makes people stop listening. I don't think one person's mind was changed based on this game. Moreover, while you did not get to play this game, you probably got more publicity having had your rally shut down than you would have had if people simply ignored you. In this case however, I don't think that helped you either.

There are likely three reactions to this game. The right probably agrees with it, but they agreed with it before. The left thinks the organizers are a bunch of racists. And the vast moderate middle thinks the group are a bunch of kooks.

If the goal is to change people's minds, this was an utter failure. If the goal was to polarize opinions and anger people, then this was a success. I just don't think in the end, this decision helped anyone's cause.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting