An Irreverent View on a Monday Night
Pre-emptive note to UI undergrads: I know your professors made you come to this event. They probably even asked to you to write a report about it to prove that you went. I will tell you now that this blog is indexed by search engines and that your professors know how to use Google. If you try to copy this, they will know.
The line to the Kibbie Dome for Jesse Jackson’s speech was long. Extremely long. And it had started to snow. It wasn’t terribly cold, but then again, I was wearing a coat and a hat with ear-flaps. It was probably worse for the poor undergrad in front of me who was wearing just a sweatshirt and the silly anti-affirmative action, pro-“Western civilization” protesters standing around with fliers. (People took the fliers, but only to mock them.) The line barely moved at all–it took me about half an hour to even get to the doors because security was busy frisking people (and turning away everyone with backpacks).
But I got there in time.* The opening remarks was made by a freshman undergrad who was a premed chemistry major and also the first black female soccer player at the university. (Personally, I’m thinking why the hell the university didn’t have a person of color on the women’s soccer team sooner, but then I realize it’s Idaho.) She was the one who introduced Jackson to the podium.
I will be frank: I didn’t think much of the beginning of Jackson’s speech. It was only so-so and for a while there, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. But after a bit, he managed to get going with a peppy rhetorical style. At the end, he had the audience repeating after him. I overheard someone saying that they were glad that Jackson’s speech was broad and that it didn’t much dwell on his personal views. I was personally a little disappointed to not hear him say anything controversial. It was a rah-rah speech, intended to inspire young people to vote and get involved.
Some points I jotted in my notebook:
-The world is multicultural so we shouldn’t see it through a keyhole.
-The next revolution will be televised.
-Fight for democracy, don’t let convenience lead to tyranny, choose sacrifice over the easy way out.
-A brief history of the important people, like MLK who paved the way for blacks, women, and young people to vote.
-Used the Superbowl as a metaphor for equality: violence with civility because the playing field is even and the rules are clear.
-We’re all free but not equal. (Mentions bailouts and health care. Examples of wealth disparity.)
-Recommends broadening world view by breaking out of cliques.
-Most of us make decisions on whether it’s popular or if it would let us win. But should make decisions on whether it is right.
-Character is beyond culture and color (illustrated by Biblical story of the Good Samaritan).
I also took some notes on the Q&A session (paraphrased):
Q: The spirit of the revolutionary students during the 60s is not the same as today. How should we change this?
A: Don’t fight yesterday’s battle; protect them. Students should be academically grounded first. If students are registered to vote, then they have the power to change things such as making the school more diverse. With social media, everyone’s a neighbor so we aren’t so isolated from faraway places like Egypt.
Q: Since they were not mentioned in your talk, what do you think about gay rights?
A: Gay rights are included in human rights. Everyone has the right to live, love and be fulfilled.
(Note: At this point, the audience broke out in the most spirited applause heard the entire night.)
Q: How did you survive the assassination of MLK?
(Note: The question included a rambling monologue about the questioner’s husband who dedicated himself to fight for the rights of disenfranchised people in the south and about a broken justice system.)
A: You cannot stop fate and fate cannot stop faith. Despite the trauma, we cannot let one bullet kill a whole movement. We cannot mourn excessively since we still have work to complete. When we fall down, we get up again. We lean on Scripture to gain sustenance. Life is not a straight line.
Q: Many prejudices are learned at a young age from the parents. As teachers and coaches, how can we overcome them?
A: With education. Students should leave the university differently than when they arrive. If you dig yourself into one circle, you cannot grow, thus you need a multicultural environment. That’s why students who go to schools with only one gender or one culture can’t grow. Once they get into the real world, they’re traumatized. You must go back home different. College should teach you how to cope with diversity.
Q: My child was called a racist name on the bus. How can we tell others that this is wrong?
(Note: The question was a lot more drawn out than this as the mother–in a very emotional state–recounted the whole sorry incident.)
A: Teach your child to cope with it and to reflect. He’s going to keep on hearing those names. The problem is not being called names but internalizing it. The more he can take a hit without hitting back, the stronger he will become. Don’t respond in kind. If you’re an eagle, you don’t crawl with a snake. You keep on flying.
Q: Thoughts on affirmative action?
A: It’s to offset negative action. It’s the law (Title IX and Title VII), but we can’t stop there. It’s for all of us. It’s not a zero sum game. Race is a factor, but not the only factor.
At this point, Jackson said his adieus and went to answer questions from the media, which will no doubt already be in the local papers by now.
*I somehow ended up in a row of seats between an older gentleman, who seemed nice enough, and a creepy long-haired dude who kept telling the people behind him that he taught sex education to high school students. I don’t think I’m a terrible prude, but I swore that if he became more squicky than Cthulhu’s loogie and started drooling on the kid in the next row, I would have grabbed the older gentleman’s cane and done something completely non-Euclidean that would have made him regret leaving his mouth unzipped.