Fans of “Conservatives vs. Antifa” antics in Berkeley will want to know that the latest dust-up is going precisely according to formula. Barely a week after Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation booked conservative pundit Ben Shapiro without having secured a venue, they’ve been informed by Berkeley Student Affairs that a venue is not available on the date and time they requested. This being the third time in seven months that a conservative speaker has not been afforded their requested time slot to speak on the UC Berkeley campus, the denial of a venue demanded at a specific time has organizers crying “Berkeley Blocks Ben Shapiro.”
The scenario has parallels to the last-minute cancellation of a Milo Yiannopoulos speech in February in the midst of violent protests, and Ann Coulter’s withdrawal from an April speaking engagement when organizers withdrew support. The Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation booked Shapiro and announced his appearance on July 11, without yet having a venue arranged. The groups requested a 500-seat venue for use specifically on September 14 at 7 p.m., which Student Affairs said via email it was unable to accommodate, though their reply reportedly did offer other dates and venues.
“Berkeley’s inability to find a lecture hall more than two months in advance is laughable,” the Young America’s Foundation said a in a press release. “The university’s email is full of double-speak such as the statement ‘Ben Shapiro is welcome on our campus, and we are committed to supporting his, and your, rights to free speech,’ despite paragraphs earlier denying him the same platform willingly granted to high-profile liberals.”
The Berkeley College Republicans, though, feel the denial is a specific attack on their right to free speech. “It is important to note that the university did not in fact identify any other dates, times, or venues for Mr. Shapiro’s speaking engagement at UC Berkeley,” BCR vice president Naweed Tahmas said in an email to the Daily Californian.
Is that true though? Shapiro was provided a venue to speak on the Berkeley campus for a previous 2016 engagement, and as noted in the Young America’s Foundation press release, Student Affairs did say “Mr. Shapiro is welcome on our campus.” According to the full email acquired by the Daily Californian, Student Affairs also said, “We have tentatively reserved a few venues on BCR’s behalf that can be discussed as part of the event’s security review. These venues include smaller spaces on the date requested and larger venues on other dates in September.”
This would indicate the potential for negotiations, rather than press release warfare and Twitter battles with zero-sum game phraseology like Ben Shapiro vs. Berkeley and Berkeley Blocks Ben Shapiro. (The Young America’s Foundation is also suing UC Berkeley over the Ann Coulter incident, though they too dropped their support of that event.) The Shapiro saga is likely to be publicized as an attack on free speech, but it may just be a misunderstanding on the logistics of securing a free venue.