University of Memphis

If We Do Not Support Opposition Groups’ Right to Freely Exercise Their Rights, Then We Are Supporting the Infringement of Our Own By Shemaiah J. Moss @ University of Memphis

psa screenshot

On October 4, 2017, the Progressive Student Alliance held a meeting at the University of Memphis. I was surprised to see that few people were there, but this could be attributed to schoolwork or possibly conflicting work schedules for struggling college students. During the introduction portion of the meeting, I immediately began to experience a mild sense of culture shock. Everyone began to introduce themselves before declaring their preferred gender pronouns. This was only the second time that I had been exposed to such a practice, in person, and the first time that I would have to address this aloud. “Um. Hi, my name is Shemaiah Moss. And, um, I prefer to be addressed as she, her, and hers.” I immediately felt the need to apologize for the lack of experience as I was unsure whether the uncertainty in my voice had revealed that I was an outsider.

Once the meeting began, the political frustration was immediately clear. There exists on campus another group, Young Americans for Freedom, who holds vastly different policy positions from the Progressive Student Alliance. They believed that their posters were disappearing at the hands of members of the PSA. This was something that Eleanor Fisher, president of the Progressive Student Alliance, vehemently denied. She expressed her frustration as the members brainstorm methods in which they can clear their alliance’s name, while spreading the word that they do not condone the silencing of opposition groups nor the removing of private property. This is a key point that expresses why democracy is important. If one removes flyers of another simply because they do not hold the same political views, they are supporting the dissolution of democracy.
Globally, America is known as the land of the free where citizens have their rights protected by our constitution. Freedom of speech is frequently mentioned when discussing American citizen’s protected rights. The current president and his apparent lack of respect for citizens’ rights troubles many people. His constant berating of the media and civilians, who dare to exercise their right to speak freely, is contradictory to what America is supposed to stand for. Unsurprisingly, college students, who are politically active, are seemingly more sensitive to this occurrence.

For this reason, the members of the Progressive Student Alliance began to discuss ways in which they could employ their right to express their opposition to the event. There will be a controversial speaker on campus, Dinesh D’Souza, which means that there could be a lot of tension among students from all backgrounds. The PSA decided that this speaker should be met with peaceful opposition. The first thing on the agenda was to do research prior to his arrival to ensure that they will be armed with questions. PSA decided to attend the event and engage in a dialog with the speaker and his supporters. Thankfully, we have a liberal democracy that permits most forms of speech and protest. Ms. Fisher stated that, “More speech is the answer, not less.” To sustain our democracy, we must continue to allow citizens to assemble, express political views, and speak out when there is an issue of contention. If we do not support the right of our opposition to freely exercise their rights, then we are supporting the infringement of our own. We would also be contributing to the dissolution of our democracy.

This is imperative because the state of democracy is never permanent. There is always a risk of democratic erosion especially when the party in power is aggressively threatening the validity of the press and tweeting that he would like to consider rescinding media broadcast licenses [1 & 2]. This could negatively affect our liberal democracy if he were to expunge the media of news that does not align with his personal views. Adena et. al did a study regarding Germany both pre and post the rise of Nazi popularity. They found that the control of the media could lead to a dictatorial regime[3]. Media is a platform that reaches many people and has the capability of affecting certain behaviors and attitudes toward certain groups [4]. There is a risk of democratic erosion when a president relies on the usage of alternative facts to address the public. Barrera et. al did an online experiment regarding facts, alternative facts, and fact checking [5]. They found that alternative facts are so persuasive that even when presented with the truth voters will still support their preferred candidate. This phenomenon is a result of saliency issues. When people are aware that their preferred politician is mentioning a central political issue they feel compelled to give support as a reward for knowing that said issue is important [6].

The Progressive Student Association is an organization that prides itself on maintaining a political dialog that is necessary for the stability of a liberal democracy. This group has been active on campus for some time. Past political activity includes: addressing the presence of guns on campus and the wage that campus workers receive. Next on the agenda is the type of action that should be taken in response to the most recent massacre in Las Vegas. The group suggests hosting a protest or a debate to raise awareness of the violence acts that have been occurring. Soon, the decision is made that they will partake in a film screening to bring attention to gun violence, but there is a problem beyond ensuring that they can legally screen a film publicly. It is implied that the PSA and Young Americans for Freedom are treated differently by the university. Soon, the frustration subsides after a member acknowledges the possibility of partnering with similar organizations if they do not have access to the much-needed funds.

In the closing moments of the meeting, the members once again express dissatisfaction with opposing organizations on campus and the ways in which their past political actions have been negatively perceived. They admit that some of their political activity was a bad idea, in retrospect, but the intent was to bring awareness to a specific presidential candidate and his hatefulness. Last year, the Progressive Student Association held a protest against the “looming disaster facing the United States.” The slogan for the event was, hashtag, “not my president” in which they disavow the oppression that he inflicts. This past action led the opposing organization to publicly shame PSA. This was another point of contention, but this is the beauty of a democracy. People should be allowed to express their views, we must not believe that censorship is the solution. For if we do, we are supporting the dissolution of our democracy.


[1] Cillizza, Chris. “Donald Trump Just Issued a Direct Threat to the Free and Independent Media.” CNN.  12 Oct. 2017. Accessed 13 Oct. 2017

[2] Michaels, Allison. “Can President Trump Really Revoke Broadcast Licenses?” Washington Post. 13 Oct. 2017. Accesed 13 Oct. 2017

[3] Adena, Maja, et al. 2015. “Radio and the Rise of the Nazis in Prewar Germany.” The

Quarterly Journal of Economics 130(4): pp. 1885-1939.

[4] Adena, Maja, et al. 2015. “Radio and the Rise of the Nazis in Prewar Germany.” The

Quarterly Journal of Economics 130(4): pp. 1885-1939.

[5] Rodriguez, Barrera, et al. 2017. “Facts, Alternative Facts, and Fact Checking in Times of

Post-Truth Politics.” Working paper.

[6] Rodriguez, Barrera, et al. 2017. “Facts, Alternative Facts, and Fact Checking in Times of

Post-Truth Politics.” Working paper.


  1. Ezra Dulit-Greenberg

    October 31, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    I generally agree with your takeaways, but I wonder what your response is to this administration’s determination to restrict opposition power. As you mention in the piece, discrediting the media is a key plank of the president’s (and his party’s) strategy. As I argue in another post, this isn’t necessarily antidemocratic—but other initiatives certainly are. The president’s voter fraud commission and rampant gerrymandering are eroding democracy, and are core priorities. Do you think they should be allowed to express support for them?
    We were talking in class the other week about the tolerance paradox. Karl Popper concludes that the only thing a tolerant society cannot tolerate is intolerance, because intolerance puts the entire society’s structure at risk. There could be a similar function in pluralist democracies—that the only opposition we can’t accept is opposition that seeks to quell opposition.
    Maybe this doesn’t apply to the situation on campus, but I think it’s an interesting counterpoint to consider.
    I also think pundits sometimes conflate free speech with free platforms. The right to speak is in the Constitution, to be sure, but the right to be heard isn’t. This is a central debate we’re having now around speakers on college campuses. It would be interesting to hear how the school’s administration justified D’Souza’s appearance.

  2. Emma Geesaman

    November 7, 2017 at 2:17 am

    I agree with the overall message of your post that by denying opposing groups the right to express their views, you are also justifying your right to freedom of expression to be denied by groups who don’t agree. The disagreement and contention between Young Americans For Freedom and PSA on your campus is widely a reflection of the current polarization in U.S. politics.
    I don’t believe; however, that censorship is a threat to democracy in the United States. In fact, both Republicans and Democrats are very vocal and both sides are heavily represented in the media. What is more problematic is what Ezra mentioned: the right to be heard. It is expected that anything Republicans say will be invalidated, criticized, or ignored by Democrats and vice-versa.
    I disagree with your statement that the media has the capacity to affect certain behaviors and attitudes. Most media outlets are loyal to one party (for example Fox and CNN). Individuals are likely to watch the outlets with which they agree and as a result their behaviors and attitudes , if affected at all, will become more aligned with the party and the ideas that they previously held.
    Trump isn’t wrong in criticizing the validity of the media and numerous presidents before him also criticized the media. Trump is wrong; however, in his one-sidedness. If there is anything to worry about it is Trump silencing the media outlets that are aligned with the democratic party, but this is unlikely to occur due to the likelihood of the Court to strike down such a policy.

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