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ISSUE 119 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/11/2005

Jackson touts Parks, diversity

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, November 11, 2005

St. Olaf audiences tend to be very generous with their applause. On Sunday, a packed-to-the-rafters crowd in Boe Chapel gave the Rev. Jesse Jackson a standing ovation before he even stepped up to the podium.

Apparently, the crowd didn’t mind waiting for Jackson, whom Political Awareness Committee (PAC) coordinator Ellen Krahn ‘06 in her introduction called “the conscience of the nation.” He spoke for over an hour on several topics, principally Rosa Parks, the war in Iraq and the government response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

I had wondered how Jackson, as a renowned civil rights leader, would address the fact that St. Olaf is predominantly white. He raised a few eyebrows, but also garnered some applause, when he told the audience that “the case for diversifying your student body is not to do the world a favor, but to gain admission to the world. If you can’t socialize beyond your race, class, language, gender, you can’t gain admission to the real world order.”

In his speech Jackson circled away from and back to Parks repeatedly. He decried her post-mortem portrayal as a stereotypical Southern seamstress, declaring, “Hell, that ain’t what happened.” After setting the record straight – “she was a freedom fighter, not a seamstress” – he proclaimed that “Rosa Parks’ legacy is unfinished business. We haven’t learned to live together.”

Jackson excoriated President Bush repeatedly in his speech, and he made no exception when talking about Parks, noting that as her body lay in state in the rotunda of the Capitol, the president nominated Samuel Alito, Jr., “a guy who would have kept her in jail,” to the Supreme Court.

Unsurprisingly, Jackson was especially scathing on the topic of the disaster in New Orleans and the government’s response to it. He repeated the phrase “no plan” many times, but also made some good points.

He noted that the dispersal of New Orleans’ citizens may create a stealth political restructuring of Louisiana. For a moment I thought Jackson was talking about Palestinian refugees when he railed against Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for not providing the New Orleans exiles’ current addresses to the Lousiana board of elections. Everyone should have “the right of return,” he declared.

Overall, Jackson’s praise of Parks was refreshingly un-saccharine, and his plug for his son’s House resolution to place a statue of her in Statuary Hall was entirely appropriate.

Currently, only three women are depicted there, and their statues appear unfinished. Placing Parks’ image amongst those famous men would be an important symbolic step towards the greater gender equality Jackson rightly advocated.

Jackson’s criticisms of the Bush administration were nothing we haven’t heard before, and on one point he went a little too far. From his speech one gained the impression that there is a direct link between global warming and the recent rise in both the ferocity and frequency of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

While the administration’s denial of global warming surely does nothing to help the situation, the cause of the recent increase in hurricane activity is much more ambiguous. Along with global warming, another important factor is the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, a 30- year current pattern which from about 1965 to 1995 was in a “down” trend. This lull in activity corresponded with the boom in coastal construction up and down the Eastern seaboard, which today makes hurricanes so costly.

The lackadaisical attitudes which permitted this runaway development, and which provide federal flood insurance to homeowners so that they can rebuild in exactly the same location every time their property is destroyed, have prevailed throughout administrations both Republican and Democrat. Until someone in the government grows enough of a spine to restrict coastal development and to privatize flood insurance, there will be many more hurricanes like Katrina.

On the other hand, Jackson’s comments about diversity at St. Olaf were right on target. It makes little sense to boast of an education “incorporating a global perspective” if our campus doesn’t reflect the diversity present in our own country. I’d be willing to bet that more students have climbed the Great Wall of China than have walked the streets of Harlem or strolled along the melting pot of California’s Venice Beach.

There’s more to a diverse perspective than touring cultural landmarks, but if we don’t develop, in Jackson’s phrase, a racial “comfort zone” in our own country, we’ll remain tone-deaf to our own problems while we focus exclusively on issues further afield. America, as Jackson noted, may be only six percent of the world, but the world needs us and we need the world. If we aren’t able to live with our fellow Americans, we’ll never be able to share our talents with the other 5.75 billion human beings out there.

Opinions editor Andrea Horbinski is a junior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics with concentrations in linguistics and Japan studies.

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