Wonder Woman, Berkeley, and the Next Civil Rights Movement

According to the Daily Mail, Stephen Miller, a writer for the conservative site Heat Street, provoked “fury” and “outrage” online by announcing he would be attending a “no boys allowed” screening of Wonder Woman at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in Brooklyn, New York.

But who is the provocateur here?  The theater that on the face of it appears to be violating New York’s civil rights law by at at a minimum advertising a sex-segregated screening?  Or the guy who bought a movie ticket, as appears to be his legal right?

Even so, there are conservatives who find Miller’s announcement to be distasteful, a “stunt.”  Sadly, I think this in large part because so much of the Right has internalized the Left’s framing of civil rights.  In that frame, civil rights laws — whatever the text may be — really only exist to protect certain victim classes from the oppression of straight, white, Christian males.

Of course, if anyone on the Right overtly made that case, he or she would be publicly torched for being so patronizing.  When the Left does it, it’s virtuous.

But the ambivalence many conservatives have about the Miller story also relates to more deeply ingrained resistance to flamboyant or confrontational political tactics, even in the service of a proper political vision, even in the service of something as bedrock to conservatives and libertarians as preserving the rule of law.

After all, it’s just a sex-segregated movie screening.  Then again, it’s just race-segregation being sought at a growing number of colleges and universities.  And it’s just these institutions that are becoming hotbeds of anti-Semitism.  And it’s just institutions of higher learning where free inquiry and expression is increasingly suppressed, occasionally with violence (with few repercussions).

The illiberalism incubated on college campuses and now spreading into the broader society has been coming for a long time, since the early 1980s at a minimum.

How many of these “justs” are we going to endure before people do more to face the unjust?

For the most part, the Right has been content to write and complain.  To be sure, there are organizations, notably the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, that seek to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities, both through litigation and support of proposed legislation at the state and federal level.  Yet the retrograde and totalitarian tide has rolled on.

It therefore seems as though America needs a new — or renewed — civil rights movement.  Litigation, legislation and punditry may be necessary parts of that movement, but people should be noticing by now that organized activism — even nonviolent forms of confrontation — also may be required.

An organized movement would be able to train activists to behave in a disciplined, nonviolent manner and to make a principled case against discrimination and for freedom of expression (and other civil rights).

An organized movement would also seek to persuade groups like the College Republicans and YAF to invite people like Ben Shapiro or Stephen Miller to speak as the face of a new movement, instead of letting the current vacuum be filled by inflammatory self-promoters like Ann Coulter, Tomi Lauren and Milo Yiannopoulos.

An organized movement would forego silly ideas like a general boycott of Disney — an overbroad notion doomed to fail.  It might embrace targeted boycotts or protests of particular bad actors at moments when they have clearly overstepped.

An organized movement would be able to seek participation and support from those liberals who still believe in the classically liberal conception of civil rights.  Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Fareed Zakaria, Van Jones and John McWhorter are a few of those who have recently spoken against left-wing intolerance, particularly on campuses.  Are they willing to do more than talk?  Shouldn’t someone be willing to find out?

Conversely, would folks on the Right be willing to collaborate with a liberal like Richard Dreyfus on nonpartisan projects to revive the teaching of civics in America?  I would like to think that this sort of bridge could be built, and with other like-minded liberals and centrists who recognize the threats posed by extremists on both sides of the spectrum.

Perhaps things had to get this bad.  Perhaps the New New Left had to reach a certain point of gutting institutions and trampling norms before conservatives would even consider the sort of activist tactics that would typically be the bailiwick of the Left.  Perhaps things will have to get worse before conservatives and others will commit to an activism meant to supplant violence and identitarian politics.

But I suspect that in the medium term, that would be the best-case scenario.

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