By Benjamin Pontz, News Editor
As Professor McKinley Melton finished an impassioned riff on the intersection of law and order with the Black Lives Matter movement, the crowd of at least 200 students sprung to its feet and erupted in applause, the first standing ovation of the afternoon. It was part of the fifth panel of the day-long Student Solidarity Rally, held Wednesday in the CUB Ballroom.
Melton stoked the palpable energy in the room as he drew on the writings of James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. as he discussed many actions from President Donald Trump’s first month in office.
“This would be laughable if it weren’t so serious,” Melton said.
He asserted that laws are a construct of power and that people of color are justified in refusing “to respect laws that don’t respect them.” He clarified, however, that he was not encouraging wanton lawbreaking.
As he unpacked President Trump’s address to Congress from the evening before, Melton decried each provision of the speech he highlighted, especially the president’s ongoing feud with inner cities including Chicago, which he asserted stems from Chicago’s status as an historical center of black political power as well as the fact that America’s first black president, Barack Obama, hails from the Windy City.
Melton’s remarks were part of a panel on “Law and Order Administration and the Movement for Black Lives” that also included comments from Professor Scott Hancock that asserted that unity is not always the remedy for division.
When underlying injustice persists, “unity kills,” he said, pointing to the racial oppression of African-Americans during the era of Jim Crow.
This panel drew perhaps the biggest crowd of the day, which featured eight panels on various topics salient to the current political climate. Attendance at the various panels generally ranged between 100 and 200 people.
Davis Healy ’17, the event’s media coordinator, commented Wednesday afternoon that he was pleased many people were there throughout the day and coming to multiple panels.
One heavily-attended panel in the morning focused on the intersection of economics and congressional politics and was to be presented by Professors Charles Weise and Bruce Larson of the economics and political science departments respectively.
As Larson was running late, Weise opened the panel alone, quipping that it was like “Beavis being without Butthead” to chuckles from the crowd.
Weise asserted that President Trump changed Republican dogma in the last election cycle by devising an economic message that combined, in his words, the New Deal (welfare safety nets), Smoot-Hawley protectionism (America first nationalism), and Jim Crow (anti-globalism). He called this “disturbing” before implicitly criticizing Hillary Clinton for not being more aggressive in articulating the benefits of free trade and globalism.
“No one was defending free trade in this election. I want to give a shout out to free trade,” he said.
He did suggest that it is unlikely Congress will enact Trump’s full economic agenda, which may weaken the president.
“It would be scarier to me as someone who opposes the Trump agenda if Trump had stuck with his campaign agenda,” Weise said. “What it looks like he’s doing is dropping the New Deal component, and he’s allying with Congressional Republicans, who want to cut social programs that his supporters rely upon. This may be his downfall.”
He finished his remarks by suggesting that every economic and political debate in America has racial undertones that should not be ignored, and, ultimately, he concluded by saying that “diversity is the spice of life.”
Larson ultimately echoed those sentiments in his presentation, referring to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children as “our children.”
“If America’s going to be exceptional, this is how we’re going to be exceptional,” he said.
He later delved into the inherent financial problems associated with serving in Congress, namely the amount of time and energy spent on raising money rather than governing and oversight.
A key theme throughout the day was on taking action; accordingly, several tables from various campus organizations aimed to encourage student participation including the Center for Public Service, Campus Kitchen, Sigma Alpha Iota, and Musselman Library.
Overall, Healy was heartened by the day’s proceedings.
“I think we have shown that there is a willingness among students and faculty to step outside the college microcosm and engage with complex issues,” he said in a statement. “It’s hard to divert time and energy to explore these issues when the semester is in full swing, and yet so many students sacrificed time out of their busy lives, and professors sacrificed class periods, to come listen and better understand the changes happening around us.”
Staff members Vera Ekhator, Daniella Snyder, and Jamie Welch contributed to The Gettysburgian‘s coverage of this event throughout the day.