I joined peers from the UW School of Social Work on May 3 to counter-demonstrate an “Affirmative-Action Bake Sale.” We collectively decided to show our presence, not so much to directly engage but to observe and be present for anyone in need of a sympathetic ear or a space to process their thoughts. The event was, after all, a cheap stunt meant to antagonize and dehumanize.
This conservative bake sale is nothing new. I recall two such events in 2003 and 2005 as an undergraduate. These events are common tropes recycled by conservative students with plenty of money to waste on petty displays. Faux edginess feeds a narcissistic and material need for visibility and funding.
The sad-looking, allegedly store-bought cookies implied that this was not a sale, as selling stale pastries at different prices is discriminatory and legally tenuous.
Likewise, the red-hatted agitators whom the UW’s Cheeto-in-Chief fan club had brought to campus were not there to converse — they just spewed vitriol and grossly misogynistic epithets. There was no conversation to be had about Initiative 1000 (affirmative action) or even about the dubious double-standard with social and economic elites buying access to prestigious schools for their mediocre progeny.
This poorly planned spectacle was a troll job, plain and simple. Under normal conditions, this would just be piddling, obnoxious political theater.
Unfortunately, these aren’t normal conditions. We are in a state of emergency as attacks are aimed against women, people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community and different faith communities. The tenor reflects a different reality. One that explicitly communicates “you are not welcome” in word as well as action.
We continued our conversations with students who were impacted. The hurt and anger permeated throughout as we reflected and processed about possibilities for future organizing. Without so much as an invite, a White gentleman interrupted us and asked to engage in debate.
Knowing that we were present in a different capacity, we kindly declined and resumed our group debrief. The man, not willing to accept a “no, thank you,” pressed further, asking why we were there if we didn’t want to “argue a point.”
To be fair, it’s nice to have civil discourse on emergent topics. However, a debate is possible only if both parties agree. A nonconsensual debate is not so much discourse as it is unilateral harassment.
Further, debating equal access to jobs, education and resources isn’t requesting unearned advantages. In fact, it’s about undoing institutionalized disadvantages that were used to subjugate people who did not meet the gendered or racialized ideal. To right the institutional wrongs of the past, we must boldly act to ensure all community needs are met, and that people relegated to the margins have the opportunity to live a dignified existence.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle. He has previously contributed to HistoryLink.org and the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. View previous columns by Oscar.
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