“You Took My Speech!” – by Gene Sheehan

That’s apparently what happened at UConn on Tuesday night, in an incident that immediately garnered national attention and, quite honestly, left no one looking good.

According to published reports, while alt-right commentator Lucian Wintrich was delivering a speech entitled “It’s OK to Be White” to a room of a few hundred people – amid loud protests from many in the audience – a State Community College Adviser took his speech from the lectern and made off with it. The speech itself was certainly meant to be provocative and probably intended to be disruptive, and I’m not defending its point of view.

But let’s remember something.

“Speech” itself is pretty much the only thing that separates us from the animals, and it is so important to us as Americans (and as humans) that our Founding Fathers ensured that the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contained a provision guaranteeing its absolute freedom from government intervention.

And once the words are taken away from people, the only option that usually remains is getting physical. That seems to be what happened here – something of a brawl ensued and the event was cut short, with the physical violence resulting in police arrests.

So much for the state of civil discourse in our current academic environment.

I participated in some of the disruptive social protest in the 1960s, and I understand the communication value of political theater. I also understand that a certain amount of disruption can be good and support positive change. In the end, however, we must depend on words and reason in order to live together.

After all, when you take away people’s speech, often times all they have left are their fists.



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