All posts filed under: Activism

The Fog of Youth: The Cornell Student Takeover, 50 Years On

On April 20, 1969, an era of student rebellions that had rocked American campuses at Berkeley, Columbia, San Francisco State, and Harvard reached a culmination of sorts with the triumphant exit of armed black students from Cornell’s Willard Straight student union building after a two-day occupation. The students had just won sweeping concessions from the university’s administration, including a pledge to urge faculty governing bodies to nullify reprimands of several members of the Afro-American Society (AAS) for previous campus disruptions on behalf of starting up a black studies program, judicial actions that had prompted the takeover. White student supporters cheered the outcome. And when the faculty, at an emergency meeting attended by 1,200 professors, initially balked at the administration’s request to overturn the reprimands, the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led a body that grew to six thousand students in a three-day possession of the university’s Barton gymnasium. Amid threats of violence by and against the student activists, the faculty, in a series of tumultuous meetings, voted to reverse themselves, allowing the crisis …

Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College

Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders. This can make it difficult to figure out what is going on in a story and to distinguish fact from partisan or ideological bias, especially when those biases flatter our own. The recently concluded libel trial involving Oberlin College offered a demonstration of this phenomenon on the part of both the defendants and much of the media covering the case. On June 7, an Ohio jury found that Oberlin College had libelled a local shop, Gibson Bakery and Market, as racist, and awarded the family business hefty damages. The case aroused a great deal of interest in legal, academic, and civil rights communities, which in turn produced a great deal of commentary, much of which was tendentious, speculative, and/or uninformed. The news coverage of this case was puzzling from the beginning. It was a case that involved college student protests, a liberal arts college with a history of progressive activism, free market economics, free speech, defamation, accusations of …

How a Feminist Prophet Became an Apostate—An Interview with Dr Phyllis Chesler

Dr Phyllis Chesler has never been afraid to be unpopular. During 60 years as an academic, feminist campaigner, and psychotherapist, she has frequently courted controversy. Her new memoir, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, details her experiences as a leader of the Second Wave feminist movement in the United States. Readers are introduced to a star cast that includes household names such as Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem, as well as women such as Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Mary Daly, and Shulamith Firestone, women who produced influential work that is now often forgotten, or else misremembered by Third Wave feminists keen to distance themselves from their feminist foremothers. But Chesler refuses to be misremembered. She’s here to give her side of the story, and she doesn’t pull her punches. We spoke over Skype from her home in New York. Chesler in conversation is just the same as Chesler in print: warm and razor-sharp. At the age of 78, she is both a prolific writer and an energetic campaigner. Most of her campaigning interests are concerned …

A Black Eye for the Columbia Journalism Review

Ideological polarization has become a growing problem in many sectors of society. But it is especially corrosive to public discourse when it infects organizations whose traditional role has been to hold everyone else to account for the integrity of their reporting. We need those organizations to act as a sort of referee when journalists of any description—including those at Quillette—fail to exhibit high standards. This becomes impossible when they instead act as combatants in the culture wars. Earlier this month, for example, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), which describes itself as “the national voice of Canadian journalists,” “committed to protecting the public’s right to know,” and “dedicated to promoting excellence in journalism,” signed on to the claim that Canada is perpetuating an ongoing “genocide” against Indigenous people, and encouraged journalists to take on an activist role by promoting “decolonizing approaches to their work [and] publications in order to educate all Canadians about Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA people.” It hardly needs pointing out that this sort of explicit activist agenda—however well-intentioned—is completely incompatible with …

Instagram’s Diversity Wars Revisited

In February, I wrote an essay for Quillette about the Durkheimian witch-hunting taking place on the picture-sharing platform Instagram, and how it was affecting the thousands of knitters, designers, and businesses who rely on social media for their custom. My article described how a blogger and online craft store owner was denounced for writing an innocuous blog about her forthcoming trip to India, and how the yarn dyer Maria Tusken was then harassed and accused of complicity in racism for objecting to the mobbing. Businesses were chastised for their failure to be “truly inclusive” or for apologising too late when they had put a foot wrong. Since my article appeared, things have only got worse. Kate Davies became the next target for abuse. A well-known designer, yarn vendor, and owner of her own brand of knitwear, she set up Kate Davies Designs after suffering a stroke at the age of 36, which ended her career as a literary academic. Davies is based in the Scottish Highlands, where she employs a small team of people and …

Why Don’t Women Vote For Feminist Parties?

From the beginning, Britain’s only feminist political party shared an odd sort of fellowship with UKIP, which was, until recently, Britain’s leading anti-EU party. Both purported to represent roughly half of the population: women, in the case of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), and those who wanted to leave the EU in the case of UKIP. Both were orientated toward a single issue. And both were plucky outsiders in an electoral system that is notoriously hostile towards new parties. Although their policy positions could hardly have been more different, founding members of the WEP looked to UKIP as a model of what a small party could achieve. But in terms of electoral success, the two parties diverged some time ago. When UKIP was founded in 1991, it was little more than a talking shop for a fringe group of Eurosceptic academics. Under the leadership of Nigel Farage, however, the party was transformed into a populist juggernaut. At the EU elections in 2014, UKIP topped the poll, getting 27.5 percent of the votes cast and securing …

It’s Not Your Imagination: The Journalists Writing About Antifa Are Often Their Cheerleaders

On February 1, 2017, Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a talk about free speech at the University of California, Berkeley. But he was prevented from speaking by a group of 150 or so masked, black-clad members of a then-obscure movement calling itself “Antifa.” The protestors caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus and injured six people as they threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. Nine months later, again at Berkeley, an “anti-Marxist” rally descended into violence as approximately 100 masked Antifa members harassed journalists and beat rally organizers and attendees. Berkeley was where Antifa rose to national attention, but it hasn’t been the only place where the group has engaged in sustained acts of violence. At a Washington, D.C. Unite the Right rally in August 2018, Antifa members hurled objects at police and assaulted journalists. In Portland, Oregon, violent street clashes involving Antifa have become regular events. Notwithstanding claims that Antifa is a peaceful, “anti-fascist community-defense group,” it has adopted tactics that often are more violent than those of the right-wing movements that the …

The Sad Truth About ‘Fat Acceptance’

Last week, self-described queer non-binary “fat sex therapist” Sonalee Rashatwar delivered a two-hour lecture entitled Race as a Body Image Issue at the St. Olaf College Health and Wellness Center in Minnesota. The event was a master class in social justice, at times putting shame to the parodies of the genre that now traffic on social media. In the video, the visibly obese woman asks: “Is it my fatness that causes my high blood pressure—or is it my experience of weight stigma?” In the presentation, which has gone viral, Rashatwar also compared “fatphobia” not only to eugenics (which is itself absurd) but also to “Nazi science,” and declared that “a child cannot consent to being on a diet the same way a child cannot consent to having sex.” Indeed, the very titles of her recurring presentations—including Health is a Social Construct, Decolonizing Sex Positivity, Gender Isn’t Real and Neither Is Health and How Fat Queers the Body—seem like something you’d find on the Twitter feed of satirists such as Titania McGrath or Madeline Seers. Yet …

Teenage Climate-Change Protestors Have No Idea What They’re Protesting

The Extinction Rebellion, which is the umbrella term for Britain’s most recent large-scale climate-change protests, is said to have disrupted the travel of over 500,000 people, as well as cost London businesses £12-million per day. Before that, the Youth for Climate strikes, ignited by Swedish teenager Greta Thurnberg and tacitly supported by the U.K. Government, pulled north of 1.4-million students into the streets on a school day. Given the magnitude of these protests, one might hope that the protestors understood what they were protesting. Regrettably, this isn’t the case. Global-warming research is a hugely complex field, and it’s unlikely that any ordinary person—let alone a minor—would have any real grasp of it. Nor would they be able to appreciate the uncertainty that characterizes our understanding of how today’s human activity will affect the future state of the earth’s climate. As a teenager, I fully understand the mindset of young people. We’re predisposed to leap before we look. This is borne out by neuroscience. Our prefrontal cortices, which regulate (among other things) decision-making, planning, self-awareness and …

Self-Harm Versus the Greater Good: Greta Thunberg and Child Activism

Greta is eleven years old and has gone two months without eating. Her heart rate and blood pressure show clear signs of starvation. She has stopped speaking to anyone but her parents and younger sister, Beata.  After years of depression, eating disorders, and anxiety attacks, she finally receives a medical diagnosis: Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning autism, and OCD. She also suffers from selective mutism—which explains why she sometimes can’t speak to anyone outside her closest family. When she wants to tell a climate researcher that she plans a school strike on behalf of the environment, she speaks through her father. The book Scenes from the Heart (“Scener från Hjärtat,” 2018) recounts these medical difficulties and the events that led to Greta Thunberg’s now-famous “school strike for climate,” in which hundreds of thousands of children have refused to attend school to protest about government inaction over climate change. Greta herself strikes every Friday and spent three weeks sitting outside the Swedish Parliament at the beginning of the school year. Written by her family—mother, father, Beata and Greta—the …