In light of former Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s recent visit to Amherst College, we wanted to take some time to discuss the implications of offering him a platform.
It’s important to destabilize the premise that bringing Kasich to speak, even if one despises his politics, is useful and important to the extent that it exposes students to “new ideas.” First, these ideas are not new. Kasich’s politics are repackaged moderate conservatism — a neoliberalism we’ve been hearing for decades: lack of action on climate change (and in his case until very recently outright anti-scientific denial), dangerously regressive views on LGBTQ+ rights, broad privatization of public services, union busting and restricted abortion rights.
It was not worth our time to protest Kasich, so we offered a prison abolitionist write-in as an alternative event. The write-ins began last semester in the wake of the national prison strike, when it became clear that solidarity with black, LGBTQ+ and sex-working incarcerated people (and intersections) was perhaps the most important form of activism in this historical moment. Write-ins are not a glamorous form of activism; you can’t get your photo taken at a write-in and be on the front page of the school paper or Instagram. But, mail means a lot to incarcerated people — many of whom are closed off from the “free world” in many ways, and who feel protected against violence by guards when it is clear during “mail call” that they have support from people on the outside. So, we encouraged everyone to come out and see what the write-ins were about.
Given Kasich’s associations with private prison corporations, the write-in affirmed the truth that ideas have consequences. To paint Kasich’s platform as a simple matter of ideas erases that reality. There is not an abstract marketplace of ideas; there is just a power struggle wherein whoever has the money or time or guts to grab a mic has the chance to control the future. If you give that mic willingly to a fascist like President Donald Trump, you’re letting a fascist control the future. If you give that mic to a neoliberal like Kasich, you extend present wealth inequalities and incarceration rates as legitimate. This school didn’t hear any new ideas that night; it perpetuated a moderate conservatism that is dangerous perhaps precisely because of its insidious brutality.
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