November 21, 2003

McKinney Speaks on Policy, Activism

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Although the Statler Hall panel discussion last night was entitled “U.S. Foreign Policy: What We Are and What Are We to Become?” former Congress member and Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor Cynthia McKinney addressed a variety of issues ranging from her alleged anti-Semitism to the type of textbook which should be used in a high-school social studies class.

McKinney gave her first public lecture on Wednesday night at the Statler Auditorium entitled “Confronting Ourselves, Confronting the World: What Kind of America Do We Want in the 21st Century?”

The former Congress member was given 20 minutes to speak before panel members Prof. Elizabeth Sanders ’78, government, and Prof. Peter Katzenstein, the Walter S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies, had the chance to comment and ask questions about McKinney’s lecture and experiences. Prof. Salah Hassan, art history and Africana studies, was the event’s moderator.

McKinney kicked off the discussion by playing a movie called What I’ve Learned About U.S. Policy. The tape showed clips of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and John Stockwell, a former CIA station chief in Angola. Stockwell, the author of In Search of the Enemy, talked in the film about America focusing its attacks on third-world nations rather than the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“[Third-world countries] could not hurt us even if they wanted to,” McKinney said after the movie.

In linking her discussion with the clips, McKinney spoke about Haiti and its political troubles with military regimes. McKinney said that former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who opposed the regimes, “spoke with a message of hope.”

McKinney then switched her focus to the development of the Congressional Black Caucus in the United States and how the group helped restore attention to Haiti.

“In short, what happened was that the Black Caucus grew in one election cycle,” McKinney said.

Afterward, the Georgian suggested to the audience that they should “get involved and help us make a foreign policy that is respectful of human rights.”

Making a U-turn in subject matter, McKinney spoke about anti-Semitic claims made against her. She said that in reference to personal views, advocating peace and the support of human rights “doesn’t translate to anti-Semitism.”

“I am pleased that some of my Jewish friends have privately apologized to me from accusations of the [Anti-Defamation League],” McKinney said.

McKinney said that two solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are to either create two separate states or one unified entity where both groups would obtain full citizenship. She said President George W. Bush is heading on the right track with his move for peace in the Middle East.

“I hope we will follow through with real enforcement of this policy,” she said.

The event switched gears as Sanders and Katzenstein commented on McKinney’s lecture. While Sanders noted the ever-changing role of Congress in foreign policy and asked McKinney for her thoughts on this trend and experience with constituents in her own district, Katzenstein presented the argument that the rise of the Congressional Black Caucus had nothing to with the situation in Haiti. He also asked the question of when America should intervene in African nations due to human rights issues.

McKinney talked about her role as a Congress member in personally speaking with Bush about the problem of private militaries, saying that “she didn’t get a sensible response from him.” She also spoke about the constant redistricting of her state and also made some jabs at her Republican counterparts.

“I don’t think Democrats do things like impeach presidents who had sex in the White House,” McKinney said.

In response to Katzenstein’s statements, McKinney said that through the enforcement of regime change, Americans did act in situations such as Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of individuals died from genocide.

“An ultimate objective of the U.S. was obtained,” McKinney said.

McKinney also was open to the suggestion of the theory that Katzenstein presented about Haiti.

For the last 25 minutes of the discussion, McKinney addressed questions from the audience. Like Wednesday night’s crowd, there was a mix of Ithaca residents and students who were divided on their views of the Rhodes professor. A loud applause followed McKinney’s initial lecture, but McKinney’s opponents countered this with enthusiastic clapping after members of the audience asked questions about her controversial views and history.

The first student went straight after McKinney and asked her the reason why she did not respond to the statement, “I do not believe Israel should wag the tail of the United States’ dog,” made by an Ithaca resident Wednesday night.

McKinney responded that people are allowed to state their views and vote for people who subscribe to similar values. McKinney also acknowledged that she shied away from many of the audience’s inquiries in her first lecture.

“There were a lot of questions I didn’t answer [Wednesday] night,” she said.

McKinney also responded to her statements made about Zimbabwe president and alleged human rights violator Robert Mugabe Wednesday night, in which she supported him for intervening in protecting the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Zimbabwe did live up to its obligations,” McKinney said. “With respect to democracy, human rights … there are severe problems with the Mugabe regime.”

Other direct questions included the amount of deaths it would take for America to intervene in a human rights crisis. A local Ithaca resident also asked for specific textbook resources which would be appropriate for a high-school social studies class.

Even though McKinney thought Sanders and Katzenstein would be better equipped to address the textbook issue, she emphasized that “children have access to the world” and should read newspapers from different continents.

Toward the end of the session, a student asked McKinney about her links to campaign funds from Arab America-hating individuals. McKinney said that regarding one contributor, Abdurahman Alamoudi, she accepted his donation because he revoked his previous views to violence and anti-Americanism. The student then asked for a follow-up question, but he was denied by Hassan.

Alex Shapero ’06 was disappointed that McKinney did not directly respond to the “wag the dog” statement, saying that she did not address whether she agreed or disagreed with the statement.

“I think people realized she wouldn’t answer questions [directly] with any lecture,” said Justin Weitz ’07.

On the other hand, many thought that McKinney did a good job in addressing the different questions. Ben Allen ’05 thought that she was clear and said that he was interested in her talk.

“I think she was clear and concise in giving direct answers to questions,” said James Cotton grad.

Although the event gave students a better chance to ask the former Congress member questions, last night’s lecture was “lively,” according to Gerri Jones, administrator for the Rhodes Class of ’56 professors.

“Students were focused in their questions and generally respectful,” said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services.

Murphy presented excerpts of the Campus Code of Conduct at the beginning of the event.

Although some students like J. Peter Freire ’04 still question the Georgian’s stances on several issues, they are more worried about the future
of the Rhodes professorship.

“In short, she didn’t stand by what her views were,” Freire said. “What troubles me most is she shows a lack of intellectual insight. … Why does she get to be a Cornell University professor?”

Archived article by Brian Tsao