Lauren Cooley is a 25-year-old conservative activist. She “has spent numerous hours interacting with other millennials, discussing and crafting a positive and vibrant message to win youth over to the principles of capitalism and limited government.” Her words, not mine.
Cooley spoke on campus last week. Here’s what happened:
It began as a normal Wednesday. Hurricanes, wildfires and Donald Trump assaulted innocent Americans. Dads everywhere made hump day jokes. On the campus of the University of Nevada, rogue skateboards broke innocent bystanders’ ankles because people suck at skateboarding, the entire second floor of the Joe again smelled like turkey thanks to Port of Subs and more people were trapped in the revolving door at Pennington. All seemed to be in its proper place.
But, then, something changed.
Lauren Cooley walked into the Glick Ballroom in the Joe Crowley Student Union for her presentation as part of the “Learning, Discovery and Engagement Speaker Series” hosted by Student Services, ASUN, Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism, New Student Initiatives, the President’s Office and Diversity Initiatives, despite earlier protests concerning her ideology.
What happened next was nothing short of groundbreaking, considering the current state of affairs. While most of my peers were correcting Don John and Don John Jr.’s spelling mistakes and defending anti-fas on Twitter, Cooley did something insane, unprecedented and possibly dangerous. She lifted us from the depths of partisan Hades, she drank from the River Styx, she reached her arm across the political aisle (“no person’s land” as future historians will call it), she grasped a snowflake by the hand and she asked, “Can we reasonably agree that freedom of speech is good?”
I too escaped my own liberal bubble for just a moment, despite the worried cries of my fellow snowflakes, not caring about the reputational risk and the shame I could bring upon my tribe for agreeing with the enemy, I reached back, grasped the hand of a Republican, and I said, “Yeah, that sounds reasonable.”
It was absolute bliss. It was a monumental moment. We crossed party lines to agree on something that has absolutely nothing to do with party lines. The crowd would’ve gone wild if there was one.
I am Ryan, and I agree with a Republican about something. Well, two things actually.
I am in agreement with Lauren Cooley about two things and two things only. First, Melania Trump’s “FLOTUS” hat is “fire emoji,” and I’m thinking about buying one. Second, freedom of speech is a cause worth dying for.
Contrary to popular belief around campus leading up to the event, Cooley did not talk about Trump’s glorious and heroic ascendance to the presidency, and she did not try to recruit millennials to her conservative congregation. She does those things during her regular “Make Campus Great Again!” tour. Reno wasn’t a stop on that tour, thankfully.
The message for this talk, however, was clear, concise, mostly non-partisan and, in my opinion, should be accepted by all Americans. It was this: in a free marketplace of ideas, good ideas (like justice and equality) will prevail over bad ideas (like the Yik Yak app and white supremacy) if we stick to reason. Free speech should not be limited. Free speech should not be under attack.
While Cooley’s video examples concerning restrictions of free speech were a bit slanted politically (an anti-fascist college professor aggressively protesting a group of college Republicans and an ill-mannered student shouting f— you at a panel of anti-feminists), and she alluded quite a lot to conservative speakers being scared off campuses like the incident at UC Berkeley involving Milo Yiannopoulos, her argument had nothing to do with leaning left, leaning right, lean beef or lean cuisine. It was straight free speech and straight down the middle.
One could even say it was a soft topic to speak on, an easy way to get people to agree with you when you’re already a controversial public speaker. Freedom of speech is a question with only one acceptable answer like “Is there going to be another Fast and the Furious sequel?” Undeniably, the answer is as solid as the Rock himself, the future Vice President of the United States, Dwayne Johnson. “Yes” for another Fast and the Furious movie and “yes” for free speech.
But lately, simply for the sake of winning arguments, people on all sides want to blur the restrictions of the First Amendment. First, Trump wanted to do it so he could more easily attack the press. Now, left-wingers want to limit free speech of white supremacists.
Twice at campus discussions last week, I heard the question “At what point does Nazis’ speech become hate speech and is no longer protected?” Well, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, but that’s irrelevant to the argument. I didn’t excel in Patrick File’s First Amendment class, but I know that when we disagree about something we should attack each other’s ideas not our freedoms.
Unfortunately, Cooley’s presentation was not well-attended. Most of the seats in the ballroom were empty, and a substantial portion of the occupied chairs supported the event organizers supporting their own event. Attendance was somewhere between Trump’s inauguration and the L.A. Rams’ home opener this weekend. Nobody really knows how many people, but it wasn’t a lot.
I say it’s unfortunate because I assume most UNR students chose not to attend the event due to Cooley’s political affiliations. She’s a hardcore conservative, and it’s become a trend in this country to ignore and/or talk loudly over opinions from the other side of the political aisle.
I didn’t know Cooley’s presentation was going to be about free speech before I went. Actually, I expected to wholeheartedly disagree with everything she said, but I wanted to listen. I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t have to disagree with anything she said. “Wow,” I thought. “It CAN be done.”
Whether we’re confronted with a millennial, Trump-supporting, big-government-hating, conservative activist on our campus or a real-life modern-day Nazi on our campus, many would rather ignore them or question their freedoms to say such things.
Why aren’t we willing to listen to what we don’t agree with? The first response to Cooley’s event on campus was to protest her mere presence here. Wouldn’t it be more productive to hear her out and tell her that her ideas are bad if you think so?
The first response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was a counter-protest. That’s a good, productive response. One side said its part and the other responded. But, the second response to the protests on social media (the literal fire that fuels the aforementioned partisan Hades) was that white supremacists should be shut-up, fired from their jobs and cast out from society.
Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, and I would rather have it that way than the opposite. Some of those things we would rather not hear. Yes, people say a lot of hateful things these days like “Jews will not replace us.” Some people are very dumb. The First Amendment is as far from dumb as you can get.
Lauren Cooley and myself are in strong agreement on two things. I ask that you only join us on one. You don’t have to like Melania’s headwear (although I don’t see how you couldn’t), but a consensus on the value of free speech is essential, no matter your party or beliefs.