An open letter to the two gentlemen wearing MAGA hats at the women's march

February 2018

To the two gentlemen wearing Make America Great Again hats at the women's march:

Hi. We met at the Women's March in NYC. When I first saw you, you were in a heated discussion about abortion. It seemed out-of-place, so I went up to talk to you, wanting both to see why you were there and to keep the situation from escalating. After talking to you, I don't understand your reasons for coming, as your stated reasons don't make sense to me.

You said were there to prove something I didn't hear any explicit point you were trying to prove, but rather assorted "free speech is important" mumblings. about free speech, presumably something about how you were being denied it. But I'm not sure what. You were allowed to march; you were allowed to talk: to my eye, you had all the free speech you wanted. In fact, the march itself was free speech writ large! Individual citizens did make their opinions about you known — alternately, some ignored you entirely — but that is their free speech. As far as I can tell, all you proved is that everyone there was exercising free speech.

You said you were there looking for a debate. You'll have to forgive me for not being sure what you wanted to debate: it was hard to hear a consistent point while the two of you switched places several times; the one of you who had been talking to me left mid-conversation to search, with laser-like focus, for the nearest video camera.

You seemed to think that nearly all places are ideal for such debate. I pointed out you attended a march, where the whole point is to have groups of people walk. You said you were looking for a side space to stand to have a debate. I mentioned it would be hard to communicate to more than one or two people at a time, because of the noiseEven without the march, New York City streets are not known for their serene, library-like atmosphere., and people walking by in the cold. Also, why were you surprised people at a march were almost completely uninterested in debate? Nor, either, would they be interested in going swimming. They came for a march, and they wanted to march, not swim or debate.

You said you were against abortion. I didn't hear much of your argument: when you were making it, we hadn't started talking yet, and I could barely hear what you were saying. But I do know that after you talked to a man saying he was a biologist, I heard no more claims that a fetus was an independent life because it has its own blood type.

You said something with your MAGA hats. You seemed surprised that no one talked to you to find out you didn't vote for Trump, but instead Gary Johnson. I'm not sure why you were surprised; I didn't see either of you ask anyone if they agreed with the sign they were holding. The natural assumption is that a person speaking a message agrees with that message. I'm reminded of the xkcd quote: "communicating badly and then acting smug when you're misunderstood is not cleverness". What one wears is a form of communication, especially when one is wearing a slogan. People purchase and wear MAGA hats to send a message. So, to be shocked that people thought you endorse the message that was emblazoned on your head seems — to be charitable — misguided.

And that, I think, is the best-case scenario for your motivations at the march: misguided. You didn't express a coherent point of view, you were looking for a debate in a place not very fit for debate, you made an explicit point about communication that was contradicted by your actions, and that your presence was permitted proved whatever free speech point you were making invalid. I wish I had said this at the march. I'm saying it now.

Thanks to Julia Rittenberg for giving feedback on a draft.