Letter to the editor: The price of free speech

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, an individual came onto campus. This man did the usual thing that we as OU students have come accustomed to on decently pleasant days: he picked a spot in front of the OC, he yelled to get the attention that he wanted.

However, instead of announcing what organization he was a part of, instead of handing out free things to students passing by (which is the best way to attract students to anything, outside of giving free food or free tuition), this man started to speak in “religious” terms. And worst yet, he spread that out to politics and events that have affected multiple nations.

I know not what this man wanted to truly get across, but like Donald Trump, he gained a crowd through similar tactics trying to fear monger and speaking in disdain toward other peoples.

When I stumbled across this man, I was leaving the library to go make my last tuition payment of the semester. I, of course, could see the crowd from the library, but with no stands or tables for distributing information, my interest had peaked wildly.

When I approached the crowd, I made my first mistake, listening to this man. A man with nothing but a backpack, his phone in hand, and a worn-out Bible was preaching about the horrors and awful sins that Muslims commit when seeking refuge in Europe’s nations, and how it has spread to nations all around the world.

I won’t go into specifics, but when listening to him, I thought three things: 1) What were his sources? 2) Did he actually have a message that he wanted to convey, other than his disdain for other peoples? 3) I wonder if I could write about this and make it into The Oakland Post. That last thought was spurred by someone handing out The Post as this man talked.

I watched this man for about 10 minutes or so as he not only preached the word of his beliefs and faiths (in summary, everyone will go to hell if we don’t follow exactly what he was talking about. I will not go into specifics here, as I don’t want The Oakland Post to be barraged with comments about how could they print what this dumb computer science and engineering student is writing).

I heard more than one student ask this man any question(s) they had, only to have them Donald Trump’d, in that he either rolled back to a statement that he considered safe, or gave a vague response to answer the question that would only satisfy himself.

Finally, I asked this man “What are your sources?” I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear him respond that he had seen this on the news and online. Yay! No credible sources for me to track down.

Regardless, I witnessed individual after individual try to convince this guy of their way of thinking, to see reason in what they were trying to convey, to teach this man who had clearly strayed far off the reservation.

I left for some time to reheat my travel mug of coffee, and to make my last tuition payment. This only took about 10 minutes.

When I came back to see this man, I asked around to see if I missed anything. The man had gone from talking about Islam, ISIS and the Middle East (I was there for some of that), to talking about the LGBT community, women, other religions, Christians (which I felt was curious, considering he was attacking many people who would follow some of his beliefs), people of different races and ethnicities, and science/higher learning in general.

Flabbergasted, I felt that the only choices that I had were to either leave and miss the show, sit back and dream that I had some popcorn, or talk to some of the other students listening. For those of you reading, the only correct choice here was to leave and forget about this man, but I did make a joke saying that I always wanted to go and see a Trump rally.

I watched as many students with good questions, solid logic and reasoning, and an honest willingness to have this man listen and hear what they were saying to see the error of his preaching. I talked to some students of various backgrounds, talked to a very intelligent and patient young woman who wanted to show/tell him the truth about Islam (for which he made a disgusting comment claiming that the Quran says liars or something have their fingers and hands cut off, and something about sexual abuse). This response got quite the reaction from the crowd.

After talking to this young woman, I learned that she really did want to show him the error of his ways and rhetoric. Convinced that I should leave, I talked to several more individuals before finally jumping in the middle of the gunfire of spite that was coming from all directions to this man, for which he gave just as much back.

I walked in and yelled “EXCUSE ME EVERYONE!! Your attention please. My name is Mason, I’m a student here at Oakland. I just got back from making my last payment to my tuition this semester. Now, I don’t know about you, but we have to give this man less power. We have to leave. So, what I’m going to do is go cry about paying $2,000 for my class, read the $300 textbook that I had to buy for this class, study so I can take my first exam in this class, which I will probably fail. Now, let’s leave and just go to the library. Come on everyone! Let’s go to the library!”

I tried stopping one man from asking a question, failed, and continued to proceed to the library. I looked back to see only one young woman walking away. I have no idea if she was the only one who heard me speak, but I could still hear yelling all the way to the library.

I truly did want everyone to disperse. Yes, this man was exercising his First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Yes, this man was intentionally offending many people and their backgrounds. And the only solution I had was to convey my message for everyone to leave, give no information on my background (other than my name), and be the example that I wanted to see from everyone else by leaving.

In the end, I made as much of a difference as the man with the horrible rhetoric. I tried to show that one person could make a positive change, and be that example. But when everyone has their heels dug into the dirt, all you can do is be another voice and try to be the example for the change that you want to see.

If you liked what you read, send me an email at [email protected], and I’ll try to think of one more good article before finals hit.

Thank you for reading. And have a nice day, semester, and life.