A fiery and politically divided audience welcomed former Congress member and Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor Cynthia McKinney to the Statler Auditorium last night as she gave a lecture entitled “Confronting Ourselves, Confronting the World: What Kind of America Do We Want in the 21st Century?”
In her lecture, McKinney talked about her own history and achievements, including her involvement with voting registration reform and meetings with individuals ranging from the CEO of Lockheed Martin to the mother of rapper Tupac Shakur.
When she first became involved in politics, “I wanted to know why so much was so wrong. You can say that’s when my troubles began,” she said.
The Georgian said that her “hefty agenda” has led to positive results in her life.
“This past year, I have had time for plenty of introspection, even vindication,” McKinney said.
She then focused her attention to Martin Luther King Jr., an individual she thought of and looked up to many times throughout her career. McKinney then proceeded to present the audience with a chronology of events displaying the government’s link to the assassination of King and how the civil rights leader worked through the threats against him.
She mentioned the government’s Operation Lantern Spike, which dedicated 240 military personnel to surveillance of King’s activities.
“Dr. King — America’s lantern — was spiked on April 4,” McKinney said.
“I am a child of the civil rights movement. I was born just after the age of flower power. That kind of spirit is the same spirit I see rising again in America,” she added.
In addition, she spoke about former senator Robert F. Kennedy and how his assassination “was the end of a chapter” in American history. McKinney then related the changes to today’s political situation and said that “there is unfinished business from the ’60s.”
“Today, we have a different America and a different leader in the White House,” McKinney said. “The very core of the America we know is at risk of underlying fundamental change.”
The much-anticipated question-and-answer session commenced after McKinney’s 20-minute lecture. Questions addressed a range of topics, including her impression of the war in Iraq, the meaning of patriotism and health care reform.
When asked whether or not the Iraqi people are better off now than under Saddam Hussein’s regime, she answered, “The ones who are dead are certainly not better off. I would not have provided Saddam the means to rule the Iraqi people to start with.”
On patriotism, she offered: “Patriotism is in the eye of the beholder.”
Two controversial topics were touched upon by a question from Elliott Reed ’05, chair of the College Republicans. Reed’s queries pertained to the issues of McKinney’s alleged support of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and “accepting funds from groups who don’t love America.”
While McKinney did not address the funding question, she talked at length about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the positive Zimbabwe intervention to support the DRC.
“If you care about African unity, then what Zimbabwe did was a good thing,” McKinney said. “I want the African [nations] to be able to determine themselves their own borders.”
Politically, McKinney attracted a diverse crowd — from Reed and other critics to supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, who tabled outside the event.
Jerome Cornett of the LaRouche Youth Movement told McKinney he was honored and nervous to speak to her.
“Don’t be. You’re my brother, or maybe, I’m your mother,” McKinney said to laughter.
Cornett asked McKinney “what can we do to take the Democratic Party out of the hands of the Republican Party, Marc Rich and George Soros, and all of those thugs?”
“We can do so much good,” McKinney said, rhetorically asking, “How come it’s so hard to get common-sense legislation passed?”
Later, McKinney said, “We do have the most open political system in the world. So, I’d ask you to participate.”
Audience members queried McKinney on her views of the Israeli-Arab conflict and her alleged anti-Semitism.
One Ithaca resident said, “I am not anti-Semitic, I love my Jewish friends [but] I do not believe Israel should wag the tail of the United States’s dog,” to jeers from a large segment of the audience.
“We need to know what our government is doing in our name, and I think we have a right to know what the government is doing in our name,” McKinney responded.
Next, Prof. Salah Hassan, art history and Africana studies, told the audience that the lecture was over, a student near the back of the audience rose and shouted, “Let students ask questions. … Anti-Semitism is unacceptable!”
Police physically removed the student, Dan Greenwald ’05, from the event, and cornered him in the lobby outside the auditorium.
University registrar David S. Yeh and two Cornell University police officers confronted Greenwald.
One officer told him, “You will be arrested on the spot.”
Greenwald responded, “Shame on you,” and left the Statler without further incident.
Outside, he told The Sun, “I am embarrassed to be affiliated with a school that will hire a professor who stands silent in the face of anti-Semitism. A failure to condemn anti-Semitism is the support of anti-Semitism.”
Yeh explained that once the police removed Greenwald from the auditorium, “he was asked to leave and he walked out. He was being disruptive. … He’s entitled to his views.”
After the lecture, many were infuriated with the lack of opportunity for students to ask questions to the former Congress member. David Friedlander ’05, who thought McKinney was “incoherent,” added that she did not directly answer any of the questions.
“I thought it was poorly moderated in that the majority of the questions asked were allocated to Ithaca residents and that students here were not given the full opportunity to interact with her,” said Ian Silverbrand ’05.
Student groups who want to speak with McKinney can make a request to meet her, according to Gerri Jones, administrator for the Rhodes Class of ’56 Professors. Jones said that tickets for these types of events are usually made available to the general public and that McKinney has already met with several groups.
Some audience members, including massage therapist Baylah Joseph, said that she had never heard of someone speaking with so much passion using Martin Luther King’s words verbatim. Still, she added that it was striking that McKinney did not “address the question about Israel.”
“I think that Cynthia McKinney did an absolutely dreadful job in answering the questions,” Reed said.
McKinney’s lecture was originally supposed to focus on women in the military, but she changed it because there was a greater interest in this particular issue, Hassan said in his introduction to the event.
In his first statements, Hassan made it a point to emphasize certain parts of the Campus Code of Conduct, most notably ways audience members could display disapproval of a speaker.
“Quite simply, the speaker has a right to speak without intimidation,” Hassan said.
The auditorium’s balcony area was closed off for the event. Even so, the remaining seats were only three-fourths filled for the much-anticipated event.
Archived article by Brian Tsao