Opinion: Using ‘free speech’ to stop others’ free speech is not saving democracy

It is outrageous that UC Berkeley students cannot go and listen to someone like Ann Coulter without fear of being intimidated and attacked.

I attended the Ann Coulter event on Nov. 20 along with some friends. We are all Democrats and we all strongly oppose her views but went because we believe in free speech and wanted to hear her argument for her views.

Upon arriving at the event, the entrance was completed blocked off by protesters. The protester who let me know this was immediately swung at by another protester for helping “the f*cking Nazi.” To get in, I had to run and hop over a barricade, while police tackled “non-violent” protesters who were chasing those attending the event.

During the event, Coulter said some very controversial things (all expected), but students challenged her during Q&A.

However, the worst was yet to come. My friends and I exited from the north side of Doe Library. We were paraded along the inside of a barricade as protesters screamed “f*cking Nazis” at us, most damning to the Jewish student with us. A monitor told us once we left the barricaded area, the police would have a clear path for us.

Immediately stepping outside the barricade, at least 300 protesters rushed at us, and the police were nowhere to be found. Each one of us was surrounded by 30+ protesters. The girl behind me, who isn’t even a U.S. citizen, was pushed and had punches thrown at her. My other five friends were equally harassed. I immediately had two students (who I recognized from past classes) screaming at me and pushing me, yelling “Why did you go? F*cking Nazi!” Every person had a camera pointed at my face screaming the same thing “F*cking Nazi!”

Completely surrounded and being pushed around, I raised my hands in the air, defenseless and repeatedly yelled “I do not support her! I do not support her!” only to be met with further harassment. I finally escaped.

Five out of the six of us who went in together made it out. Unsure of where the sixth person was we went to the base of the Campanile, the whole time being followed by a man in a hoodie and wearing a mask. When we reached the foot of the Campanile we found three women of color, all students, in tears. All were crying because “our own communities attacked us.” One of these girls provided immigrants with legal help, and she recognized some of those she helped, attacking her and others. After waiting about 30 minutes we thought our sixth friend had made it out and went home.

We later learned our sixth friend, an 18-year-old female freshman, had been trapped on a ledge outside Doe surrounded by more than 100 people. She was stuck there for more than 15 minutes while the harassers pushed and yelled at her as cameras flashed.

When back at my dorm, I heard protesters outside my window. I was terrified that a group had followed us back to the dorms. That had happened to two of my friends who were followed back to Foothill and further harassed by student protesters. Another was followed back to Unit 3. However, when I looked up, I saw five buses driving outside of the parking lot. I would not be surprised to find out that many protestors had been bussed in.

This is a continuation of a one-sided ideology at UC Berkeley and college campuses across the country. Using free speech to stop others’ free speech is not saving democracy. I can honestly say that those who harassed attendees outside the event are hurting this country as much as, if not more, than Ann Coulter. Both sides bear responsibility for creating this divided and hyper-sensitive environment within the United States.

Am I the only one that thinks it is outrageous that in a place of higher learning that students cannot go and listen to a speaker without fear of intimidation and attack?

UC Berkeley used to be a place of free speech. Now, students aren’t allowed to have opposing views. They are afraid to speak up in lecture and discussion. Here, there is only one viewpoint – whether you like it or not. And this is happening all over the country, but here at UC Berkeley we can be that change. We can stand together and listen to all opinions – even if we disagree – because that is free speech. We can protest events (like Ann Coulter’s speech), without inhibiting free speech. We can do so non-violently. We can be the example for the rest of the country.

I am writing this for those students who are afraid to speak up in class. I am writing this for those students who are afraid to express their views. I am writing this for students at the school where the Free Speech Movement was founded. I am writing this to save free speech.

Matthew Mercier is an economics and political science double major at UC Berkeley.