We all know Charlton Heston is coming to Brandeis tomorrow.
What most people don't seem to know is how to respond appropriately to
this situation. What follows is a manifesto on the correct response, in
proper leftist interests, to the visit. These ideas were formulated over
a long period of time, about the past 10 days or so. I talked with many
people about them, only Zimmy of whom really agreed with me. I realize
it's too late to sway most popular opinion on the matter (I think it was a lost
cause to begin with), but if for nothing other than posterity, I feel compelled
to get this out before the madness commences tomorrow.
-SWC, Waltham, Massachusetts - 27 March 2000
Heston is not a stupid man. Confused, senile, & wrong, he can be described as, but he is surrounded by a good number of intelligent advisors & a wide base of support that wishes to see him successful. He is attending exactly 3 (three) college or university campuses with the purpose of speaking this year. That's not very many. To the best of my knowledge, the other two are traditionally popular Ivy League schools. With this in mind, there has to be some reason or purpose behind him choosing Brandeis, of all the colleges in the country, to focus on as one of his three & the only one with a somewhat "lesser" national reputation.
The only ideas anyone's posited to me other than my own theory on why Heston's coming here consist of (1) his speaker's fee, (2) Brian Rudnick's influence in the Republican youth movement. With all due respect to Rudnick, the idea that Heston would be swayed to "do a favor" for Rudnick is absurd. He may have immense influence among the party & its youth groups, & certainly has been able to galvanize nationwide support behind Freedom Magazine & Brandeis' discrimination against said publication. But the idea that one of the more persuasive & popular speakers of modern conservatism would be persuaded to add Brandeis to his list of 2 schools as a personal favor to a college kid is silly. This is no more than a minute portion of his motivation. As far as the speaker's fee goes, he'd get that wherever he went. I daresay he'd get a far larger chunk of cash from Oklahoma State or UAlabama, where his support is probably much greater & he can garner far more supporters in attendance. Besides the fact that Heston is already well over-funded... I don't think he needs more spending cash. Even if he is, it's not a major motivator in his calculus.
The only thing this leaves is the truth behind Heston's visit to Brandeis. He wants to speak on the campus of one of the most 3 well-known bastions of liberal thought. & the reason he wants this is clearly NOT an issue of demonstrating to the world that conservatism has won a great victory in colleges that are typical liberal hotbeds. It is painfully obvious that Republican, let alone Libertarian, support is minimal at Brandeis, dwarfed by Democrats, Commies, & Socialists of all varieties. Thus, the only reason he could possibly have for selecting Brandeis is a commitment to "causing a ruckus" among all those agitated activist Commie pinkos.
This theory is undoubtedly consistent with the policies of the NRA & Heston in the past, where they attempt to galvanize support for their gun lobby immediately after highly publicized shootings at schools, say outlandish comments in favor of white-supremacy, & do other things which inspire outrage amongst leftist thinkers. Surely the primary motive for Heston's visit is to show that Brandeis is filled with outrageous radicals who, despite voicing a demand for free speech & liberal freedoms, actually are reactionary in their desire to protest anyone who they disagree with. As a result, everyone planning on speaking out against Heston, especially those planning on carrying signs, shouting, rallying, or asking hardball questions of Heston, is actually supporting the NRA & its goals of coming to Brandeis.
In light of this, one has to wonder what an appropriate response would be. It goes without saying that an immense reaction to Heston has already been planned & long been expected. In fact, it's arguable that there will be a larger contingent of "security" present than the Brandeis campus has ever seen in its history. The national media is also expected to make an appearance. The expectations are running high that the "Berkeley of the East" will react in full force, some perhaps even bordering on violent, to the Heston's arrival on campus. & most campus organizers of leftist organizations, activist groups, & students of all kinds are certainly doing nothing to counter this widespread assumption. Heston knew about this long before he agreed to come speak here & inspiring this kind of dissent was precisely what he wanted. Not only does it allow him to portray an irrational bias amongst leftists generally, but also to pose conservatism as the voice of rationality & calm, much the same way that the anti-war movement was portrayed in the '60's.
However, there are 2 critical differences between this & the anti-war protest (which I support) of the '60's & '70's. First of all, the point of the Vietnam War was not to target liberals & inspire their ire. Rather, the goal of the pro-war movement was to quietly support the troops & their actions. The more dissent made against the war, the less the war effort succeeded. Contrastingly, Heston's entire point in speaking at Brandeis is to stir up dissent. But furthermore, most of the basis of the NRA's support is based upon stirring up trouble, distributing provacative flyers & bumper stickers ("My President is Charlton Heston" being perhaps the most benign of these), & generally making the gun-control supporters angry, attempting to show them to be unreasonable opponents of the Constitution. Meanwhile, much of the pro-war '60's movement relied on Nixon's "silent majority" perception, arguing that while numerous people protested the war, a much larger number sat at home & quietly supported the war. Such an accusation, were Brandeis to NOT react to Heston's visit, could not be made.
There have been numerous protest & rallies on the Brandeis campus within the last year. Amongst these were protests against the bombings in Kosovo (which I myself helped organize), protests in reaction to a lesser-known pro-NRA speaker shortly after the Columbine killings, & a large rally in response to vandalization of the GLBT-support organization office (Triskellion). With this in mind, an accusation that, should Brandeisians essentially ignore Heston's visit, Brandeis had suddenly "gone apathetic" would be ridiculous, one that the media would not venture to make. & while it is well-known that on-campus apathy is a concern of people on this campus, I would contend that few people outside of Waltham think of Brandeis as in any manner apathetic. Most of our reputation is still wrapped up in the '60's, Abbie Hoffman, & being, well, the "Berkeley of the East", as it was advertised to me all the way out in New Mexico. Certainly if we protest just about anything we disagree with (including our campus not having recycling, as was the case last year), the decision to NOT protest Heston's visit would be a statement in & of itself.
What would the nature of this statement be? Clearly, it would be a profound repudiation of not only Heston's goals in coming to campus, but also his relevance as a major public figure. While his talk itself may be difficult to under-attend, as it is in a relatively small venue & will likely be packed with Republicans hauled in from surrounding colleges & towns, a complete lack of protest, coupled with the massive amount of security & media present specifically to react to all the protests would be a massive stand against the NRA in & of itself. It would show that Brandeis students, on the whole, do not find Heston or the NRA worthy of their time. He is so far from reality & an accurate perception thereof that it isn't worth wasting time listening to his absurd policies or even getting excited about his presence on campus. Such a repudiation of Heston would become the primary news story by itself. With the massive media presence witnessing a number of security guards having nothing more than squirrels & blowing leaves to react to & protect Heston from, the decision to NOT protest would become the most vital aspect of the story on Heston's speech. This would become doubly more effective if the speech itself were poorly attended, especially by leftists of any kind. If it were clear that everyone inside was merely Heston's choir being preached at, this would be evidence of the typical Brandeisian's true rejection of Heston, not just as an idealogue, but also as a public figure who'd lost total credibility.
Instead, the campus is planning to rise up in an angry call of protest. Not only, as stated above, does this play into Republican hands, but it runs the larger risk of things getting "out of control". Not evey leftist is a pacifist (much to my chagrin) & the results could be devastating of a protest against gun violence becoming violent itself. Beyond that, Heston is trying his darndest to incite people & I'm sure this will continue during his actual speech. So many people so dedicated to giving him what he wants is dangerous - clearly the control of the event is in his hands. As the focal figure, he'll be able to call the shots, in a manner of speaking, & paint whatever picture of the protest he likes to the media.
Many have argued that the passionate energy generated on campus in the last couple weeks is enough justification by itself to warrant the protests, regardless of their potential negative consequences. This I wholeheartedly disagree with. Firstly, logically, we could all be galvanized with passion behind the idea of getting more meal-plan money per meal in the cafeteria - this doesn't make it right to do so. Getting excited about a cause still leaves unanswered the question of the WORTH of the cause. Clearly, this cause is not worthy of people's ardor, for everyone thinking they're being a good leftist is only benefiting the NRA. But furthermore, this passionate energy is of a form that does not build a uniquely better Brandeis community, but rather instills an attitude of bitter resentment to other public figures. It's energy generated artificially. For while there is a pressing need for greater gun-control & this spirit could be used to promote community at Brandeis, all of this energy is being targeted in opposition to Heston himself & his beliefs. Setting up confrontational & oppositional passion, rather than progressive & productive passion, is often more detrimental than helpful, especially when the event is artificial (Heston HAPPENING to come HERE) rather than universal (the U.S. bombing Kosovo). Heston's mere existence in society has never been deemed worthy of inspiring passionate opposition - why should his arrival here do something otherwise? Basing passionate community on something so flimsy is counter-productive, especially when it only does exactly what Heston wants.
Thus, I urge everyone to boycott the Heston speech, both in direct attendance & in any form of protest. I believe, probably more strongly than anyone, that Heston is a fascist & that gun-control far beyond what we now see in society is essential to the functionality of this crumbling country. It is this conviction that will not permit me to play into his hands, to help him & the media paint an image of Brandeis that is unfair & shows us to be opponents of free speech & rationality. I implore you all to join me in ignoring this irrelevant force in American public policy & helping to build a better campus, & nation, without the NRA.
27 March 2000
Waltham, Massachusetts, USA
For more ideas on pacifism & other (perhaps less significant) parts of life, go back to the pond of peace.