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A Non-disruptive Form of Protest

Lemons to Lemonade
By TTN Blog

This is from Daniel Mandell, a professor of history and Hillel faculty advisor at Truman State University (Kirksville, Missouri), who has written books on Native Americans in New England, circa 1600-1900, and serves on the Missouri board of advisors for the Anti-Defamation League:

I believe that the best response to the dangers posed by a visiting bigoted or hateful speaker is a “lemonade campaign” — asking people to pledge X dollars per minute that the speaker holds forth, with the proceeds to be given to the ADL, ACLU, or other appropriate organization hated by said speaker.

I first heard about such efforts in December 2016 after the Daily Stormer threatened to gather armed neo-Nazis in Whitefish, Montana, in support of Richard Spencer.  In response, the Justus and Karin Rosenberg Foundation, in connection with the Montana Human Rights Network, organized a “Lemonade Campaign” — making lemonade from lemons — by seeking donations of X amount for every minute the nasties marched, with the money to be given to Jewish institutions, human rights education, and similar causes hated by white supremacists.  Of course I pledged, but also took notes on the campaign.

Three weeks ago, the College Republicans at Truman State University in Missouri, where I am a professor of history (and Hillel faculty advisor), announced that on April 13 they would be bringing Robert Spencer, a fierce and dogmatic Islamaphobe, to speak.  Truman students reacted in anger, in part because of Spencer’s nasty manner and speeches, and in part because the Republicans were using $3,000 in student activity funds to pay him.  

Reportedly, a few Tweeted their anger in ways that seemed to threaten Spencer, and some of Spencer’s supporters (from elsewhere) trash-talked Truman students.  Some asked the university to cancel the event and keep Spencer away, although faculty members (including me) advised that was impossible and would mainly serve to “feed the troll.”  Students began to consider ways to protest: some discussed packing the hall while others planned demonstrating outside.  The student funding council then gave $3,000 to the Muslim Students Association (which for years has had excellent relations with Hillel) to bring to campus Faizan Syed, executive director of the Council on American-Islam Relations-St. Louis; Syed was scheduled to speak before Spencer in the same hall.  Rumors spread that Spencer, upon hearing the news, had challenged Syed to a debate.

I thought of a lemonade campaign, and suggested to the College Democrats that they create an internet fundraising site to raise X dollars for every minute Spencer spoke on behalf of the ADL, ACLU, and/or the building fund of the nearest mosque (in Columbia, Missouri).  They used GoFundMe, an existing service that apparently had the capability only for lump-sum donations, and although the site’s description said that the money would go to both the ACLU and the ADL, only the ADL seems to be listed on the actual donation page.  Apparently organizations need to ask and provide some documentation to be listed with GoFundMe, which may be why the College Democrats specified only the national ADL office for donated funds.  

In the end, the evening went very smoothly with great civility, in what I’ve come to see as a hallmark of the rural Midwest.  The audience “enthusiastically received” Syed’s speech, as Spencer noted on his website, and while they were  “almost completely hostile . . .  They didn’t disrupt my remarks, as the MSA [Muslim Students Association] had instructed them not to.”   And the College Democrat’s Bronx cheer for Spencer has raised $271 for the ADL.

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