Political Speech Not Identical to Electoral Partisanship

A.D. Hogan

In a letter to the Review, College junior Daniel Starer-Stor asked, “Would Oberlin have been able to host such speakers as Joey Mogul and Andrea Ritchie for their Oct. 10 talk titled ‘Fighting Queer Injustice: The Continuing Criminalization of LGBTQ People and the Fight for Liberation’ without such non-SFC donors as the Donald Downs, OC ’62, and Richard Korb Fund?” As the co-founder and chair of the Oberlin Queer Wellness Coalition and the student liaison for Year of the Queer, I can attest to the fact that Mogul and Ritchie were funded in full by SFC. The Downs/Korb Fund paid for their reception dinner, hosted by Dean Estes. The Fund requires an application and an itemized budget; money is not simply given and spent arbitrarily. Further, I find it amusing that Mr. Starer-Stor used the event “Fighting Queer Injustice” as an example to prove that a number of events use “partisan” non-SFC financial support. I’m not sure if Mr. Starer-Stor attended the event, but Mogul and Ritchie explicitly called for the end of police brutality, the police, the prison-industrial complex, and by no means forwarded an ideology of the supposed “Gay Rights Party” Starer-Stor alluded to in his last paragraph.

Mogul and Ritchie did not concern themselves with the rights to free speech, but the rights to not be criminalized, jailed, murdered, tortured and harassed because of one’s gender identity and expression and sexual orientation. They spoke of one’s right to seek non-punitive transformative justice that promotes cooperation and collective action, one’s right to be recognized and rendered visible by hegemonic systems.

Was Mogul and Ritchie’s speech political? Of course! It was about power and oppression, privilege and domination. It was about the state apparatuses that exercise, maintain and enforce power; that optimize some populations for life and consign others to death; that allow rampant sexualized and racialized violence to remain invisible.

I would encourage Mr. Starer-Stor and the OCRL to consider the differences between those things that concern power, oppression and domination (or what I call “political”), and those that concern electoral politics. Though I know both can be intertwined, I would argue that the type of “political” funding issue concerning the OCRL in these debates is the latter, not the former. Blecher’s concern is about electoral politics and funding, not about the political more broadly, which is what everything concerns, whether OCRL recognizes it or not.

For example, Year of the Queer has no explicit electoral aim; however, YoQ is all about power and identity politics. YoQ events are about educational opportunities and knowledge sharing. The OCRL, too, focus on power and sharing knowledge — but more specifically on how such are enacted through electoral politics. The issue, at least for me, isn’t so much about “free speech” but instead who is able to access the venues to enact their speech, i.e., to have their speech heard in the polis, or have their speech recognized by other citizens. Any one can say or write, “Free speech. No apologies,” but the fact that OCRL can access half a page of the Review every week because of an outside donor with explicit ties to electoral politics and goals (to a party that is explicitly anti-gay and not-so implicitly sexist and racist), and other groups cannot because of financial limitations, is concerning to any educational institution. However, I take no issue with the ad campaign or the OCRL’s desire for free speech, or whatever they desire to call it. I take issue with their mitigation of the issues Mogul and Ritchie addressed — namely the prison-industrial complex, murder, police brutality, sexualized and racialized violence — by using their lecture to underpin their (the OCRL’s) argument to support their desire to publish an advertisement.

Dear OCRL, you’re able to access so many venues to speak and get your voice heard; do not compare your incredibly privileged position to the realities of low-income, criminalized, trans and gender non-conforming folks, many of color, to try and convey your point. It merely serves to prove your ignorance of the mechanisms of power and domination.