Report from Trip Back to Hampshire College

May 26, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On April 13, organizers from Hampshire College's Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) program used campus police to evict eight members of Stop Patriarchy ( from their conference on Reproductive Freedom for peacefully advocating against pornography and the sex industry. Revolution published some of the many messages of protest against the outrageous suppression of anti-pornography views which were sent to CLPP and Hampshire College officials. The stakes in this action by Hampshire College have bearing on whether a new generation will not only hear, but be roused into action to oppose, the tremendous harm that comes to women everywhere through porn and the sex industry. Stop Patriarchy is continuing to fight this and calls on people to add their voice to this protest. To submit a letter of protest, go to: Revolution received this letter from a reader who is part of


Dear Revolution:

With high hopes, a couple of us from took the 3-1/2 hour drive from New York City back up to Hampshire College last weekend and we think your readers will be interested to learn about our experience. We needed to respond to Hampshire College administration's flagrant lies about Stop Patriarchy getting kicked out of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference in April. (See the statement here.) These are from notes we sent around to some people in our group.

Though the semester is over, and the campus pretty empty (admin and academic dept. offices closed), we did find some students around, packing up, a few hanging around with friends for last goodbyes for summer, small numbers coming and going into buildings.

We had flyers with our statement on one side and our challenge to debate on the flip side.

We approached just about every student we came across and got an extremely broad variety of responses. Perhaps the best was a young man (majoring in something to do with environmental restoration and insects) who hadn't heard anything about what happened previously. He was outraged, "Makes me ashamed to go to Hampshire," he said. "I'm so glad I ran into you. You've lit a fire in me. There's this campus group, something like 'Men Against Patriarchy,' I was thinking before I should join it and now I'm definitely going to." He's very interested in working to have some kind of debate happen next semester. This idea of a debate and opening up rather than shutting down discussion and debate and opposition to the sex industry (porn, "sex work" i.e. prostitution) is something that got a positive response from many of the students we talked with; 10 students gave contact info to be followed up about this, which was a pretty good percentage.

Some people had heard about the CLPP conference, but mostly vague references to "some kind of drama" and mostly their impressions were along the lines of the "official" story about it. But there was some openness to considering that the administration story wasn't true. Openness, along with some skepticism that what we said was true. CLPP has broad credibility, and some students had gone to perhaps one or two workshops even if not the whole conference. Our flyer is shocking. "LIES." Was it really that simple? It was like, there's got to be more than what Stop Patriarchy is alleging. One snarky young guy—carefully acknowledging his "white male class privilege"—went on and on about how our statement isn't "helpful," "doesn't give me enough information," "it's so categorical and acts like [we] have the facts... All I have is just two different sides' impressions of what happened." (We didn't spend much time with this guy!)

We got a hearing and connection when we made clear that this isn't just about the specific thing done to StopPatriarchy. Calling on campus police to expel and threaten us with arrest was inexcusable. Beyond that, however, is the issue that was suppressed: Are people going to even hear a critique of the sex industry from people fighting for women's liberation, as part of emancipating all humanity? Are you and others going to confront what's at stake and the millions of women and girls' lives ground up in these horrors? It's because CLPP comes out of a different framework and doesn't want to see that upset that drives them to such lengths as suppressing SP to begin with and then flagrantly lying about it. By and large the students we met ranged from casually to very interested in pursuing this. Yes, they would like to see this happen.

One of the things most interesting was to learn that there are students and others who are dissatisfied with the whole climate of relativism and identity politics—while not even necessarily understanding or able to articulate that this is a positive reaction to a whole wrong methodology and epistemology. One student, Alice, nodded in recognition to our description of the charge of "violating safe space" and the pro sex-work people elevating their individual experience over the global social harm of the sex industry. "That's widespread all over Hampshire. So many times I've found that when all people can talk about is their own individual experience... It's like everyone's 'opinion' and 'discomfort' is the end-all be-all, and it gets in the way of having a real dialogue about the issues at hand."

We got our stickers out to a few who loved them. (People walking around in sweats or shorts with no pockets and clearly without money to donate.) One woman recollected reading our Open Letter on "Facebook or a Tumblr somewhere." We handed out the Stop Patriarchy Call to Action to everyone along with the 3 Big Lies flyer, and people appreciated receiving the actual flyer which some found so objectionable. One student said she couldn't see anything in it that should be shut down by CLPP.

The extreme opposite response came from 3 or 4 different women—encountered at different times—who are part of CLPP and organizers at the conference. It felt like they were all programmed to present a united front, i.e., "treat these people like enemies." They were each openly hostile and refused to talk to us. "I don't feel obligated to talk to you," coldly walking off. Another: "I know what you're going to say," threw our flyer in a trash can and explicitly refused to talk to us.

Once we decided there weren't more people or places to get out to on campus, we left Hampshire and drove into the town of Amherst. On the advice of a very interested Hampshire student we met in a gift shop, we took flyers to leave and post at the local library and posted things up on a few bulletin boards in stores. There were more places to have sought people out and posted flyers, but we ended up spending a lot of time talking to one person we met by sheer luck. When we began handing out flyers to customers hanging out at one coffee place, a young Asian woman said, "I was part of this conference!" She was actually part of the "peace team"—people who took shifts during the conference theoretically to "intervene in different conflict situations." She was not there at the time of the "incident" and was actually very pleased to meet us—really wanting to find out what we had to say. She said there had been a lot of discussion and concern. "People are really upset the campus police were called in and have been trying to find out, who called them??"

We went into some depth on what happened. It seemed to us that she took seriously what we said, especially that no one from CLPP tried to find out more, that CLPP director Mia Sullivan in particular refused to talk to us (aside from threatening arrest), that the police were pretty much there on the spot. She thinks SP's larger concerns and positions belonged at the conference. This woman herself feels conflicted about pornography and "sex work"—going back and forth on the questions of the impact of the sex industry on women's lives around the world. "I'm really torn about this...can see both sides..." She tried to explain why she thinks one of the self-described sex workers got so upset. Her impression was that was only addressing "force" and not "choice." When we explained why "choice" is actually not the central question, she found this revelatory. I pointed out the section of our flyer which said, "What seemed to offend [the pro-sex industry group] was SP's argument that their individual 'positive experience' with porn and 'sex work' should NOT be elevated over the global social harm of the industry on millions and millions of women and girls." Even putting aside the matter about whether "sex work" really is freely chosen by the vast, vast majority of women and girls involved, the central thing to evaluate is what social and sexual relations do pornography and prostitution reflect and reinforce. She nodded her head in agreement.

I also talked to her about the lie being spread about SP "blogging about the abortion speak-out"; the actual chronology of what happened, i.e. since this was after we got kicked out, it obviously wasn't the reason for us getting kicked out. When I mentioned the "Use only I statements" sign, she told us that sign was used throughout the conference! In fact, workshop moderators are supposed to introduce all workshop discussion with such instructions. While not wanting to strongly criticize this "community norm," the "only I statements" policy is unsettling to her.

This led to a discussion about the problem with such a method and the whole framework of identity politics. She explained the "intention" behind this practice where each person brings their own experience into the whole group, no person or group is marginalized or excluded and thus "real community and understanding is strengthened." But in fact what was marginalized and excluded at CLPP was the actual experience of millions of women and girls abused, exploited, degraded, and lost! As opposed to looking at things scientifically, bringing people to look at objective reality, over and above just personal narrative—which can lead people to not only learn about what's actually going on in the world, how and why, but also see that we have a responsibility to fight to change this, towards a society without exploitation or oppression of any kind. Not "my group" or "identity." At one point when I mentioned that one of the SP people kicked out is a Stop "Stop & Frisk" defendant, she said, "I live in Harlem and know all about this. Living in Harlem, I get shit from all sides" including dealing with racist slurs from some Black people. So how is that different from "my group," "my community," the narrow nationalism of looking at other oppressed people as competition for shrinking resources, pitted against each other. Identity politics can't take that on. This woman wants to pursue "getting to the bottom" of what happened at the conference, and is interested in possibility of a debate in the fall.

Certainly it would have been better if we had gone back earlier, but we think the trip proved to be fruitful.

p.s. We really had fun.


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