By Isabella Rosario
On April 20, the Facebook page for Populist Wire posted a video of an altercation that took place downtown at the intersection of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue. In the video, a woman attempts to rip an anti-choice sign held by the man who appears to be filming. She shouts, “You’re a piece of f***ing sh**, go home … you have no place to say god***n sh** about nothing.” At one point, she just screams in his face. Later in the video, she starts shaking a spray-paint can, all while hurling insults. The man calmly explains why he is against abortion while she repeatedly chants, “Go home.”
Last week, I wrote a column about how the “free-speech crisis” on American college campuses is oversimplified. I still stand by that opinion. But it’s incidents of harassment like this — especially against more conservative opinions — that understandably raise fears around the country. And while they do not indicate a widespread imminent threat, they must be vehemently condemned. It should go without saying that this sort of behavior is not only morally unacceptable but a complete affront to an individual’s right to freedom of speech. No matter how abhorrent people believe others’ opinion are, they have no right in heckling them to “go home.”
In addition to how horrifying the video was (I feared for the man’s safety as I watched it), some of the responses have me worried that the conclusions people drew will further stifle political discourse. The University of Iowa College Republicans shared the post and wrote, “Just another day in Iowa City. The party of tolerance and inclusion once again shows us that they only care about tolerance and inclusion of ideas it agrees with.”
Perhaps this response was mostly written in jest because of the ridiculous nature of the video. But it implies a generalization of all people who hold different political beliefs — as well as the idea that this one badly behaved person confirms the character of everyone who is pro-choice or otherwise liberal. This extrapolation of one person or a few people to represent an entire group is something that occurs across the political spectrum. Liberals will share a racist tweet from a prominent conservative and use it to argue that conservatives are racist people. On the right, conservatives like to peg individual intolerant behavior and use it to criticize the “Loving Left.”
But these lazy oversimplifications only shut down conversations in a time of already-contentious political discourse. If people use one jerk as confirmation that everyone who shares that ideology is a bad person, then why would they want to engage with anyone with different beliefs? Thinking that half the country is prejudiced or combative about opposing ideas is a sad way to go through life. While videos such as this may initially paint a bleak picture, most people would be surprised to find how many of their “opponents” are also tired of fighting.
According to the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of Americans say conflicts between Democrats and Republicans are either strong or very strong. Clearly, we recognize a problem with the political polarization in this country. And if we want that to change, we need to keep ourselves from being distracted by the minority who want to further tear us apart. This country uniquely prides itself in its individualism. Let’s not lose sight of that by turning the actions of a few people to symbolize the integrity of the collective.