The UConn Campus Antifascist Network sponsored a panel about fascism and racism on Nov. 8 in the Austin Building. It was led by four speakers: Chris Vials, Jerry Phillips, Bre Leake and Fred Lee, each of which brought up their own personal experiences as they explained the role of fascism in society today.
Vials, a director of American studies and associate professor of English, began the discussion by defining antifascism.
“An antifascist is anyone who thinks fascism is a clear and present danger and a defining issue in their time,” Vials said.
He went on to say that fascism “is not synonymous with conservatism,” but is a right-wing political movement driven by nationalism and militarism. White racial identity is often at the center of the movement.
Vials continued by discussing our current political state under the Trump administration. While we are not currently living in a fascist state or within a fascist party, he explained, the president commonly uses fascist diction. Trump puts emphasis on race, violence, action, strength, weakness and the nation. This, as Vials put it, allows for an “openly racist set of actions in everyday life.”
Phillips, an associate professor of English, read from an essay he wrote about his personal experiences with fascism while growing up in England.
“Fascism is not so much a political but a moral problem,” Phillips explained.
According to him, many people participate in fascism not because of its beliefs, but to belong to something. His anecdotes about the National Front in Britain were proof fascism still exists and is still dangerous.
Importantly, Phillips stressed fascists are still people and protesting their hate speech and their right to freedom of speech with violence does not facilitate conversation. They can still be talked to, especially if they are part of a younger group participating in the movement for the sense of belonging.
“You shouldn’t use violence to fight against hate speech,” said student Pentecost, a fifth-semester mechanical engineering major who asked his last name not be included. “I hope these conversations continue and intellectual diversity increases on campus.”
English graduate student Leake began her section of the panel by recounting the changes Trump has made in recent months, from the end of DACA to the military ban on transgender individuals. She spoke about how it was the responsibility of professors to make their classrooms inclusive and recounted threats she received after attempting to do so herself.
Lee, assistant professor of political science, talked about the history of racism and fascism in America in the past hundred years.
“A new norm is being set,” he said, “of white or pan-European Nationalism in America.”
Lee focused on the development of the dangerous idea that people of different races are allowed to exist within the country as long as they are “useful” and the core of the nation is still white. He explained there is another, similar idea growing in America that someone cannot be American unless they are white.
Lee also described the importance of Antifa (short for antifacist movement) and said the media likes to give it a bad reputation to strip it of power.
“The right wing wants to portray Antifa as a white movement,” Lee said. “Antifascism is for everyone.”
The panel was met with mixed reviews by the audience. Many are still wary of the potential violence of the antifascism movement and the bad reputation it has acquired. The debate over to what extent freedom of speech can be limited was a source of conflict after the panel. A discussion also erupted over the best way to protest without actually deepening the presence of fascism and making those individuals feel the need to defend themselves.
“I thought they made Trump and the right wing sound way more extreme than they are,” said Marc Moshu, a seventh-semester economics major.
Political discussions create worthwhile debates, and yesterday’s panel certainly spawned a lot of important discussions about fascism and freedom of speech. As with many political issues, there is no simple answer or solution which leaves room for ongoing debate.
More information about the Campus Antifascist Network can be found at campusantifascistnetwork.com.
Courtney Gavitt is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.