Last Wednesday, the Stanford Review published an article by Brandon Camhi analyzing the Slow Down for Mike Brown and Carry that Weight demonstrations that occurred that week and their implications for the Stanford community. While Camhi’s argument was not overly-hostile, it contains so many questionable assertions — about the demonstrators, their motivations and their objectives — that one wonders whether he attended either event.
Camhi suggests that participants in these demonstrations were “blindly following movements” with little regard to understanding the issues being disputed. This is both offensive and untrue. Both demonstrations were just single instances of larger ongoing conversations that have been occurring on campus, with the involvement of many informed and passionate students, for years. In my little-over-two years at Stanford, there have already been numerous round tables, panels, and other events addressing police mistreatment of minorities and the plight of sexual assault survivors. There have even been events specifically related to Ferguson and Stanford’s own sexual assault policy. Camhi’s claim that participants in these demonstrations were uncritically joining causes without understanding their nuances just shows how little attention he has been paying to the activist community during his time at Stanford.
He also criticizes the demonstrations for having “indeterminate goals.” While many social justice movements do have rather abstract targets, the aims of last week’s demonstrations were pretty straightforward. The primary purpose of the Slow Down for Mike Brown demonstration was to publicize the Ferguson: America’s Movement for Racial Justice event that would take place in Cemex Auditorium later that night. There were obviously the secondary objectives as well: the demonstration was held in honor of the Moral Monday march that had occurred in Ferguson, Missouri the week before, and was also a sign of solidarity with the greater Ferguson October campaign. Similarly, demonstrators wanted to remind the Stanford community of the importance of police accountability, even though we are more than two thousand miles from the heart of the action. However, the primary intent of the demonstration, as explicitly stated on the flyers participants handed out, was to invite people to Cemex.
The purposes of Wednesday’s Carry that Weight demonstration were equally clear. Speeches given at the rally in White Plaza detailed what changes the students supporting sexual assault reform would like to see implemented, the most important request being mandatory expulsion for students found guilty of sexual assault. The same demands were made during the Stand with Leah campaign last Spring. Had Camhi actually attended the Carry that Weight rally or passed through the Slow Down for Mike Brown demonstration, he wouldn’t have called their goals indeterminate or intentionally vague.
Finally, Camhi proposes that popular movements stifle dissent by “monopolizing the moral high ground.” But, if a movement actually acquired a monopoly on morality, it would render itself obsolete because there would be no opposition to it. Protests are still happening in Ferguson precisely because many people refuse to believe minorities are unfairly targeted by the police and some people actually think such discrimination is justified. College students are still demanding reforms to their campuses’ sexual assault policies because an astounding number of people still blame the victims of sexual violence instead of the perpetrators. These people believe just as ardently in their movements as last week’s demonstrators do in theirs. A movement cannot squash dissent by claiming the moral high ground because the opposition also believes itself to operating from a position of moral superiority.
Furthermore, these movements, at least on Stanford’s campus, have not promoted censorship in any way. Anyone who opposes the underlying sentiments of Slow Down for Michael Brown or Carry that Weight is more than welcome to hold their own demonstration in response. Anyone who wanted to debate these issues at length could have gone to any of the panels, round tables, or forums before the events that were specifically designed to promote discussion. Campus leaders of these movements even made space for disagreement at the demonstrations themselves. For example, at the Carry that Weight rally, time was allotted for women of color to express their concerns with how the movement tends to ignore their particular experiences with sexual violence. Dissent was not only allowed, but encouraged.
The Review article implies that these demonstrations were undertaken by misinformed students with vague goals and an urge to censor those who disagree with them. In fact, both events had knowledgeable participants, well-defined objectives, and the aim of furthering, not silencing, political discourse at Stanford.
Biola Macaulay, a junior studying international relations, is president of the Black Pre-Law Society, a member of the Stanford NAACP, and a research assistant at the Stanford Human Rights Center. She participated in the Slow Down for Michael Brown and Carry that Weight protests.