Awakening our Democracy is Columbia’s lunchtime conversation series about race and ethnicity disparities, justice, and other issues affecting CU and the rest of the world. Bwogger Amara Banks went in support of Jelani Cobb, but left with a new idol.
Jelani Cobb, a professor at the School of Journalism and renown writer for The New Yorker, started off the discussion with a loaded joke, saying no one was leaving the room until all of the problems were solved. Then he launched the discussion with “how did we get here?”
While all panelists shared interesting and insightful perspectives, Linda Sarsour, had the most impactful voice in my opinion. In this post I will recount some of my favorite points of hers. The first was her correction of the title, “One nation under politics? More like one nation under hot mess.”
My appreciation for her commentary began with her answer to the first question about our two party system, and whether we should press toward a third or multi-party system.
Her solution was in support of multiple political parties, but she turns to the issue of the current election to make her point. Because the majority of our nation is not completely satisfied with neither Trump nor Secretary Clinton, third party support has increased. With this support has brought the party a surplus of people who are ignorant to the party’s initiatives and key figures, as she said her recent interactions with third party supporters do not even know who Jill Stein or Gary Johnson are. Our democracy fails to accommodate for more than one party. Even in the past, as one party fell another would take its place. Sarsour believes a solution that would lead to better representation of the people would be a genuine commitment to build structure for a multi-party system. She points to The Working Families Party in New York City, quoting Frank Sinatra by saying if we can make it work in New York, we can make it work anywhere.
Sarsour also spoke about the history of Muslim partisanship, saying historically the demographic gravitated toward the Republican party due to their politics on social and familial issues. However, with the rise of Islamic xenophobia, some Muslim people have turned to the Democratic party more so because of their lack of alternative options rather than genuine support of the party’s ideas. As Democrats have supported legislation enacting policing and surveillance, as well as strategies of national security that do not align with the beliefs of Muslims, these people again feel without a party to turn to.
Sarsour also attacked the claim that the problem with our presidential candidates is money in politics, and instead said the problem is their lack of touch with the concerns of millennials. Interestingly, while she agreed with Trump being a conservative Republican, she did not see Secretary Clinton as a liberal Democrat. She said that our government is far from representing the majority of Americans, and instead a small group of people actually have a stake in this election: big parties, real estate developers, and special interest groups were her examples.
Another problem she pointed to is the people who claim America is fine and would never do things like “surveillance in Muslim places of worship, or deport immigrants solely based on their nation of origin,” because these things have already happened. Frustrated with the ignorance some people have lived in, Sarsour followed with, “this country will get even worse if Trump loses, honestly. The hate that we are seeing in communities now is going to be exasperated because people are going to need to blame somebody for the loss that they have.”
This election is not a complete waste. Because of these two dividing candidates, the public has been forced to consider the option of a third party. “The election has woken us up,” Sarsour said. Even Senator Sanders made a difference– by running on the Democratic ticket, he essentially introduced the idea of a third party to a lot of his supporters who didn’t really know about the option. After he lost the primary, they ended up switching to the third party.
Later in the discussion, Sarsour spoke about the line dividing free speech and hate speech, calling for an establishment between the two. “We have found in American politics that it pays to scapegoat. Remember when Trump demanded we load the Muslims in a database, or when Governor Jeb Bush said we should take the Christian refugees, but not the Muslim ones, that the candidates started doing better? When someone is benefitting through fundraisers and poll results, why not do it?” Later during the Q&A, she clarified her position, proposing that instead of outlining what is and isn’t hate speech in The Constitution, we should impose consequences on those who commit hate speech — such as employment termination, public apologies, and other methods of demonstrating intolerance for unacceptable speech outside the hands of law enforcement. She even called for the public to marginalize these people through social media and protests.
Later she called out protest voters, and asked them to reexamine their protest. “The next president is going to be your opponent for the next four years, and you have an opportunity to pick who you want it to be: a white supremacists who uses the language of law and order, or Hillary Clinton,” she said. Sarsour believes that should Trump get elected, we will have even more of a challenge ahead of us, as his plan of action does not include fostering an environment for government dissent.
She concluded the panel with a reminder for protests voters to turnout at their local elections, as these officials decide education policies and sanitation issues that directly affect the communities.
Video coverage of the event can be found here.