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The Koch-Funded Free Speech “Crisis” Has Racist Consequences, But You Can Fight Back

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UnKoch My Campus

THERE IS NO "FREE SPEECH CRISIS" OCCURRING ON COLLEGE and university campuses, regardless of how frequently this narrative is trotted out by the conservative right in hopes of passing harmful legislation. However, there is a real problem with well-organized right-wing llibertarian donors and political operatives suggesting that American colleges and universities are too progressive and hostile towards conservative ideas. They’ve manufactured a way to criminalize legitimate protest on campus, and this faux crisis has become both a performance of anti-Blackness on the micro level and a tactic for the Koch Network to uphold structural racism on the macro level.


What often appears as localized and spontaneous outrage among conservative students is instead a strategy deployed by well-organized, right-wing libertarian donors and political operatives seeking to fundamentally transform American society, including higher education, to benefit a wealth class that believes their “right to liberty” includes amassing unchecked power at the cost of common good institutions and the communities those institutions intend to serve.

One prime example emerging from the Campus Free Speech bill, which is an intentional and strategic misnomer, is the criminalization and penalizing of campus activism and campus protest. As a result of the already high rates of criminalization and surveillance of Black and non-Black students of color on college and university campuses, this bill chills dissent and increases the likelihood of punitive measures for students who engage in campus free speech actions. 


The Goldwater Institute has pushed this bill in Arizona and other states, seeking to punish college students --sometimes with expulsion-- if they stand up to speakers whose rhetoric, pedagogy, and material outcomes deepen structural racism rather than seed new opportunities for critical inquiry and practices which lead to a more just society. Meanwhile, the same Koch Donor Network that funds the American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC) and strategizes with ALEC legislators to get their bills adopted across the country, are funding college programs and speaking tours to provide a platform for the very peddlers of white supremacist ideology that bring these protest-worthy, violent environments to campus in the first place. The Koch Donor Network is, yet again, stoking a faux crisis in order to push their agenda which compliments a very specific rhetoric.  


Not only is the dark money funded astroturfed “Campus Free Speech Movement” propagating white supremacy ideals by protecting hate speech and calling it free speech, it is yet another manifestation of a structurally racist policy that criminalizes Black and non-Black students and faculty. At a time when more and more students of color are fighting for their right to access higher education, these bills take away the agency of the most marginalized students to organize for their right to achieve that education free from cultural and direct violence. 


But there are ways to fight back, and we’re privileged to help lead the way. Start by understanding the laws in your area, and be prepared to advocate against proposed legislation. In addition to local laws, understand your specific campus policies. Be proactive! Inform your campus community of what is happening and/or encourage your student government/faculty senate to pass a resolution affirming students’ rights to protest.


Recognizing that organized, energized young people who understand how their universities are being leveraged to harm their communities and our democracy as a major threat to their agenda, these campus free speech bills are the Koch network’s latest attempt to further strip power from those most impacted by historical limitations to free speech. By combining tactics to actually protect free speech on campus with taking dark money out of education and politics, we will collectively stand up against Koch-funded ideology in higher education across the country. 


Jasmine Banks will appear on the panel, "Academic Freedom and Student Activism," at the Campus Free Speech Battles Conference on September 29, 5:00-6:30 pm.

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