More than 100 students waited for Rev. Al Sharpton to arrive to speak to students at the University. His daughter Dominique, a student here, paced around telling everyone he was on his way. At 6:25 p.m., over an hour after students first gathered to hear him speak, Sharpton entered Johnson and Hardwick social lounge.
“It’s actually snowing in New York,” Sharpton said. “My daughter goes to this school. Dominique? I’ve made it here, Dominique.”
During his speech, Sharpton called the Bush administration “masters of distraction,” and made it clear that he was going to say what he believed, not what was politically acceptable.
“I do not say things to wane or gain support,” he said. “People ought to say what they mean.”
Sharpton briefly went over his life prior to entering the political arena. He described the times of segregation during which he became a preacher. Eventually, his bishop saw that he “was inclined to become socially active,” Sharpton said. He became a part of Operation Breadbasket, an organization led by Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight discriminating corporations.
Sharpton was appointed to be the organization’s youth director when he was a teenager by Jesse Jackson. It was then that his interest in politics began. Although Sharpton disliked politics at this age, he began to realize that true reform would only happen through the American government.
“At some point you want to make [convictions] the law of the land,” he said.
The bulk of Sharpton’s speech was an evaluation of why Bush won the 2004 presidential election, what he thought went wrong and the issues that he believes Bush is handling incorrectly.
Sharpton joked about how realistic his chances of nomination were.
“I knew it was unlikely,” he said of the nomination. “I would’ve liked it. I wouldn’t have turned it down.”
He made a point to differentiate himself from the other, more conservative Democrats he ran with during the primaries. He emphasized his anti-war position on Iraq.
“There was no opposition to the war in Iraq,” Sharpton said. “Even [Howard] Dean wasn’t against the war. I was the only one against the war.”
Sharpton continued his anti-war rhetoric, saying he “knew there were no weapons of mass destruction since the beginning” and that Bush’s priorities were not where Sharpton felt they should have been. After Sept. 11, 2001, Bush’s focus on fighting terrorism and finding the culprits behind the event slowly shifted.
“Four years [after 9/11] and we still don’t have bin Laden,” he said.
Sharpton was unsure how a man with a bad kidney, such as bin Laden, was able to issue recorded messages to American intelligence while stumping the entire government. He has put out “more videos than Mary J. Blige,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton shifted gears and spent time explaining that he believed Bush manipulated the American public in the 2004 presidential election. He claimed Bush unfairly changed the issues of the campaign and played up the gay marriage issue to his advantage.
“Bush and Karl Rove played the three-card monty game on America,” he said. “Why did he run his campaign on gay marriage and abortion? Decisions on marriage do not come out of the Oval Office.”
While Sharpton himself may not, as a Baptist, endorse gay marriage and abortion, he does not feel it is appropriate to “force his beliefs” on the rest of the country.
“I don’t have the right to impose my belief on you,” he said. “No one should stop me from being a Baptist. Even God gives us a choice of heaven or hell.”
To wrap up his speech, Sharpton made a specific call to all college students, saying that the nation’s reform and change came from students, not politicians.
“It was students that stopped the war in Vietnam,” said Sharpton. “It was students that fueled the women’s movement.”
He finally encouraged students to scream to get their voice heard. He heavily supported the idea of protest in order to make the men and women in power understand the concerns that the American people have.
“Protesting is not designed to solve problems,” said Sharpton. “It’s designed to bring light to a problem.”
Julia Foley, a sophomore, attended the speech and thought that Sharpton’s message was clear, strong, and much needed.
“He talked about things that mattered to me: the war especially, health care and public education,” she said.
While she agreed with his criticism of Bush, she was disappointed that Sharpton did not offer solutions to stop Bush.
“He didn’t offer a plan to stop what Bush is doing,” Foley said.
Andrew Pittz, freshman and aspiring politician, thought that Sharpton’s message was important for students to hear, arguing that keeping those in power on their toes is a good idea.
“It’s good to question what those in power are doing,” he said.
Jonathan Rashid can be reached at iJonny@gmail.com.