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Free Speech: The Last Bastion of Scoundrels

Print some of these up and tape 'em up around campus if you want

Print some of these and tape ’em up around campus if you want

Thursday, November 6th saw two attempted shut downs of speaking events at McMaster. In the afternoon, a marching band stormed a lecture by Susan Cunningham, an oil industry executive, about women’s leadership; and in the evening, another group shouted down an event by a group called Lifeline that seeks to limit women’s reproductive autonomy by opposing access to abortions.

Supporters of both events have denounced the protestors for interfering with their right to free speech. But let’s be clear – why should we give a shit about the free speech of billionaires and of those who organize to take away the freedom of others?

Should we really support the right of a billionaire to maintain their enormous ability to reach and influence the public relative to everyone else? Do we really want to create space for people trying to take away women’s control over their own bodies? If that’s what the “right to free speech” means, then we should throw it away, because it no longer serves us. As if a right to free speech is even meaningful in a society where some people can pay a million dollars to have their self-interest become universal truth while others are arrested for speaking up without asking permission.

In universities all views are permitted so long as they never translate into action; where speech is free for as long as we are content to merely speak; where Henry Giroux can have an office beside a commerce professor, because they are united in the passivity the institution imposes. When well connected groups with deep pockets use the university space to advance their agenda, it isn’t called disruptive, it’s just how society works. But when people with little power organize to push back, suddenly everyone is concerned that a right might be violated.

We don’t accept this cowardly and pacifying way of living. So-called “free speech” becomes a bastion of scoundrels, a wall used by tyrants to protect themselves from the anger of their victims. Scumbags like Cunningham and Lifeline hide their attacks against us behind the language of free speech. We will confront them at every turn, because we understand that the oil industry and the anti-abortion movement to be enemies of freedom.


Here’s the text from the original leaflet that was given out at Cunningham’s talk:

Tyranny and the oil patch: Oil and feminism don’t mix!


You got rich destroying the earth and exploiting impacted communities – rough. As a woman in a patriarchal society, you fought like hell to make it to the top of an industry predicated on imperialism and ecocide – nothing to be proud of. And now, because you dumped a pile of money on McMaster’s corrupt doorstep, they’re going to celebrate you as a beacon of “women’s success” – stunning.

But right now, across the continent, from Elsipogtog to Unist’ot’en, Hamilton to Appalachia, there are women taking an inspiring lead in shutting down the transportation of oil and natural gas to prevent the expansion of an industry that threatens the survival of their communities; an industry that has already laid waste to so much of this earth. This is the kind of leadership that deserves to be celebrated; these are the kinds of people who actually deserve a glossy poster and a podium.

You seem proud of your role in oil extraction in the gulf of Mexico, an area that has been absolutely decimated by the oil industry in recent years. Leadership in ecocide? You want us to know about your role sucking profits out of West Africa. Leadership in imperialism? If this university had a shred of integrity it wouldn’t give you space to whitewash your disgusting actions with vapid crap about women’s leadership. For those of us on the other end of your violence, we know it doesn’t matter who gives the orders to destroy – the impacts are the same.

We can already hear the predictable complaints that we’re violating your right to free speech (ie, the right of the rich to force us to listen respectfully as they steal the earth from under our feet). It seems monstrous to consider the so-called “free speech” of someone who can afford to buy their own place at the podium while they continue to devastate communities and poison the land and water. This is not an issue of free speech – you’ve had more than enough space in this world for your voice to be heard, and look what you’ve done with it. If you want respectful and productive dialogue, you have to get your foot of our throats first.

Someone who has dedicated their career to driving the earth ever further into the jaws of disaster should not be celebrated for their leadership. To celebrate them with the language of feminism is an insult to women and to everyone who struggles against the hegemonic order. We hope one day you can see the connections between the oppression of women and the patriarchal institutions you’ve committed yourself to.