On Monday, the Stanford Daily reported that the Stanford College Republicans had submitted a grant application to bring right-wing political commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza to campus sometime in winter quarter. In that article, the Daily quoted sources from within the ASSU that indicated that SCR’s grant request would likely not be approved, though they could very well bring him anyway.
Even if one disregards his recent trend towards the trivialization of the holocaust, D’Souza has long been a standard-bearer for the worst impulses of modern American conservatism. He was a hack when he started the Dartmouth Review in the 1980s, publishing lists outing LGBTQ students. Dinesh D’Souza is a peddler of noxious ideas, and has been for thirty years.
In light of all that, many in the Stanford community, including the Sphere’s own Elijah Spiegel, have made the case against having Dinesh D’Souza speak. People have called on the College Republicans to rescind their invitation and have called on Stanford to deny SCR funding. We do not disagree with these demands.
But we must not invest too much time and energy into opposing Dinesh D’Souza. We, the Left on Campus, must not let him (and whatever equally awful speaker SCR brings next) dominate the news cycle or campus activism for a second longer than he has already. It is not that the campus left must take the high road, and take a principled stance of ignoring our problems until they go away, but simply that we don’t time for this.
We’ve been here before— with Charlie Kirk & Candace Owens of Turning Point USA in the Spring and Robert Spencer last fall. It’s the same deadening cycle each time: the forces of campus conservatism (usually SCR) plan to bring in an obviously offensive speaker, left activists correctly identify that the speaker is offensive, the Left rallies and op-eds and tweets about the speaker, and in the end, no one seems to really benefit outside of the right-wing provocateurs.
Last fall, the then-insignificant College Republicans invited Spencer, a “Counter-Jihadist” who has been condemned by the SPLC as “one of the most prolific anti-Muslim figures in the United States,” to speak on campus. In the weeks prior to Spencer’s event, dozens of student groups organized a coalition against Islamophobia, publishing Op-eds in the Daily and other campus publications against Spencer’s visit. The night of the event, students came out in force to protest Islamophobia, outnumbering those at Spencer’s event by far. It was a compelling moment, and a beautiful illustration of community support for the Muslim community on campus.
But what came out of it in the long run? The coalition dissolved away, the College Republicans were emboldened by the media attention they received, and the actual lives of most people on campus changed not one bit. All the political effort and organizing on campus was focused into one singular moment, and in its wake the Left has been left to play catch-up. Even some of the activists who organized the rally admit that it wasn’t the most productive use of our time— Zach Kirk, an activist with the Black Student Union who helped organize both the Spencer protest and other subsequent actions, told the Sphere that “even though the organizing experience and increased political awareness that came from the Spencer rally were, in their own ways, valuable, in retrospect, the energy that could have otherwise been poured into working class struggles was lost in pointless struggles with far-right groups.”
In the public eye on campus, the Left has been responding to the Right rather than building a politics of its own. This same cycle has played out everytime SCR has done something outrageous and offensive, always to diminishing returns and exhaustion from the activists that worked to protest them.
In fact, the only party that gains from these exchanges, from this endless cycle of provocation and outrage, is the Right — and more specifically, the leadership of the Stanford College Republicans. They’re the ones who get the glowing campus magazine profiles and national media attention and (if you believe their claims) growing membership numbers, and we’re the ones who get smeared as violent radicals. And, by the very act of giving our attention to responding to the Right instead of supporting a resurgent Left, we let this happen.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Left doesn’t have to be trapped in these cycles of reaction, stymied in its attempts to build a better world by having to respond to the endless provocation of Right-wing hacks. There is work being done on this campus right now that deserves more attention than D’Souza that is being crowded out by SCR’s provocation. From the continued efforts of the SCoPE 2035 to build a better future for the areas affected by the University’s development, to the work of groups like the Campus Workers Coalition to support workers on Stanford’s campus and in Silicon Valley, and the tireless activism of Power2Act to make a community center for the disabilities community on campus, organizing is alive on this campus. While much of this activism fails to articulate nuanced and progressive visions for America’s future, there are nonetheless students all around us engaged in a struggle for justice, striving for change on issues as diverse as health care reform, mental health treatment, the occupation of Palestine, and this University’s own reckoning with its past.
There is, of course, time to call out vicious purveyors of hate like Dinesh D’Souza, especially in the wake of an anti-semitic massacre fueled by the ideology and conspiracy theories that he espoused. But we must not let right wing trolls overshadow the best efforts of the campus left to improve our community.
Sphere Editorial Board
Photo: Picture of Jordan Hall with its statues of Humboldt and Agassiz and part of the balustrade of the Main Quad at Stanford University, Emma Pease