It is always better to know as opposed to not knowing at all. If we are ignorant by choice, or simply ignorant, we alienate ourselves from what is out there and by doing so, lead ourselves to potential danger. That danger does not necessarily mean physical, but rather embarrassment, lack of knowledge, and a limited world view.
It is embarrassing to see some college students choosing not to read newspapers, page through the World Atlas, or turn on the local news channel for at least thirty minutes to know what is going on around them. Instead, most North Park students choose to spend their time on facebook, playing video games, or getting lost watching Lost every Thursday night.
I was very discouraged when I asked few of our North Park students about their take on Gaza and got the answer, “Who is Gaza?”, or “What is Gaza?”, or “I don’t know what is going on there.” It was funny but sad when I told some North Park students that I am from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and got this reaction, “Oh, that’s in Jamaica, right?”, or some asked, “Where is that?”, or “What island is that?” It is beneath the dignity of a college student who goes to school in Chicago, IL and when I asked their opinion on the scandals surrounding Illinois’ Governor Rod Blagojevich, they responded, “What did he do?”, and eventually said, “I don’t know.”
What some of these college students ignore is that there has been an ongoing military conflict between Palestine and Israel for the past few weeks, resulting in hundreds of deaths in Gaza. And what some college students don’t know about my native country D.R. Congo is, it’s the third largest African nation, and has suffered from numerous civil wars, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. What some college students should know about Governor Blagojevich is he has been accused by the FBI for corruption, for supposedly selling President Elect Barack Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidding candidate. It is important to know what is going on around us, because when we do we understand the world that we are living in, and therefore better positioned to make positive changes. If we don’t know what or where Gaza is, how can we act on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And what does it say about our understanding of the world and our involvement in it if we don’t know the geographical location of a vast territory such as the D.R. Congo. If we don’t pay attention to what is going on locally in Illinois regarding Mr. Blagojevich’s suspicious activities, what does it say about our individual responsibility? It is always better to know because it widens our views, which then leads us to make the right changes.
Students should reawaken their desire to know, and develop their curiosity far beyond what is just required of them in class. Beyond only knowing what’s going to be on the quiz in Joel Willitts’ Intro to Bible class or the midterm examination in Joseph Alulis’ Comparative Politics class. North Park’s motto says, “Preparing students for a life of significance and service.” I am certain that North Park means what it says, and am sure that our professors and faculty are preparing students for that life of, “Significance and service.” It is students who fail to inform themselves beyond their classes and thus limit their ability to make a difference once they leave college.
As I am sure you have already noticed, this is a special inauguration issue. It is special not only because it covers the inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama, but because the North Park Press had the fortunate opportunity to be in D.C. during the historic event.
Cramming into two North Park vans the Saturday before the Inauguration, the North Park Press left for D.C. accompanied by several members of the Student Association. After an agonizing fourteen hours in the vans, we arrived at the Church of the Redeemer in Bowie, Maryland, which would serve as our home base for the next four days. On behalf of the Press, I would like to express my thanks to Pastor Paul Meador, Wendi Paterno, and the members of Redeemer for their fervent hospitality and blessings.
Sunday brought us to the Washington Memorial, where we joined thousands to listen to speeches and musical performances by celebrities and artists such U2, Stevie Wonder, and Beyonce. Surely many of you were watching the concert from your dorms and apartments and know what a unique group of individuals gathered to usher in the inauguration. Following the concert, we were able to view the Lincoln, WWII and Vietnam Memorials. After traversing D.C., we returned exhausted to the Redeemer, as we did every night for the next few days, tired though excited for the events that would ensue the following day.
On Monday, the Press went their separate ways, each drawn to a different element of the historic city. Several of us went to view Manifest Hope:DC, a gallery devoted to politically-influenced artists displaying their beautiful contemporary and graphic art. Others visited the Smithsonian, International Spy Museum and various other landmarks in the area.
While the events on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 will forever remain distinct in the minds of the sojourners who assembled in D.C., for each person it will be for a different reason, a different memory of why it was important. Personally, I am amazed that this was the 44th time that the highest seat of power in the United States has passed peacefully from one hand to another. In other countries, power is attained through violence or strife, but not in the U.S. Two million people stood silent Tuesday afternoon as the President’s voice left his mouth, entered the loudspeakers and echoed of the buildings of downtown D.C. For those that watched it on television, it was inspiring. For those that were there, it was breathtaking.
Our trek back to Chicago began early Wednesday morning. We crowded into the vans, tired and smelly, having not showered since the beginning of our voyage. This issue is the product of that voyage, a culmination of young voices inspired by the promise of change. The initial idea for the trip was to provide the staff with the opportunity to experience the inauguration like a professional press team. As evident by this special edition, the plan was a success.
In addition to the major American and international newspapers and televisions stations, countless independent publications (including your very own) made the journey to DC; but they were not the only ones writing about the Inauguration. Now, thanks to Web 2.0 tools: texting, blogs, Youtube, and social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter, it is now easier than ever to share news stories or write (or record) and share commentary on current events.
Major stations like CNN and FOX are beginning to harness this new wave of interaction not only by starting their own pages on Facebook and Myspace and asking viewers to comment on stories; but actually using them as sources. When unarmed, 22 year old, Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a police officer on New Year’s Day at a busy train station in Oakland, California; there were at least 10 different recordings that were uploaded to Youtube. Within days, these recordings gathered thousands of views, and major stations have used them in their news segments. For Al Jazeera English (AJE), Web 2.0 has become its doorway into the American radar. During the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden sent his videos to the Al Jazeera Arabic news station to be broadcasted, which has created a lot of resistance against the English channel; but instead of retreating, AJE has built up not only its website but its Youtube channel and has created a Twitter page so “Followers” can receive headlines in real-time. One station, Current TV, allows viewers to control all televised content through Viewer Created Content that is voted on by website visitors. During the Presidential Debates, they utilized Twitter, a micro-blogging site that allowed viewers to make their own commentary on what they saw and heard.
While there have always been questions about who is actually unbiased in their depiction of the news, this new media raises a new kind of questions: questions that are actually about us as viewers. Will we develop a healthy level of post-modernism that admits this writer, this blog, this video segment, speaks from his or her own experiences and therefore cannot be the definitive source on this issue? Because Web 2.0 requires entire stories to be chopped up into sound bites and headlines, will we admit to our own finite minds and cultivate a discipline that seeks to know and understand a few issues deeply, or will we be simply collecting things to “fact drop” on the Green Space or in between classes in Carlson? The power of this new media can be harnessed; the question is how will you use it?
Few, if any, American presidents have inspired entire artistic movements, but Manifest Hope:DC is evidence of the critical part art plays in generating and influencing social energy in today’s modern political arena. The art exhibition opened on January 17th, offering more than seventy well-known and not-so-well-known artists a chance to present their political minds to thousands of tourists and Washingtonians in the days leading up to the Inauguration of America’s 44th president, Barack H. Obama. Hundreds of national and international representations of Obama, and what his campaign is believed to stand for, covered the walls of two floors in the building. There were stained glass pieces, paintings, posters, sculptures, statues, and video focused on themes of voting, healthcare reform, worker’s rights and a green economy.
Upon entering the gallery, guests were greeted by a group of enthusiastic hostesses and handed a variety of commemorative postcards, magazines and buttons. Free sports drinks flowed while a duo of disc jockeys mixed up a most appropriate combination of politically charged rock and soul tunes from the past and present. The Washington gallery and several organizations, including MoveOne.org, VoteLatino, and the Service Employees International Union, worked with a variety of artists across the nation to, “mark this monumental achievement in our nation’s history and [encourage] artists and activists to maintain the momentum to bring about true change in the United States” (manifesthope.com).
Justin Hampton’s painting garnered the attention of camera crews and newspaper reporters as guests lined the walls of the gallery to get pictures by his and some other artist’s pieces. When asked why he chose to paint what he did, the young painter’s response was quick and straight off the cuff. “Why not!”
Laughing, the young artist from Portland, Oregon began to tell his story. “You know this election definitely motivated me early on and I had this idea in my head for a while and I finally got the time.” Obama’s campaign motivated Hampton to create a screen print in support of the campaign which he began promoting. “A portion of the profits from this print went to the campaign’s final push over the last weekend before the election to help get the vote out,” says Hampton.
Once-presidential-hopeful John McCain also had a little something to do with motivating Hampton’s most recent project. “In the 2008 Presidential Debate, Senator John McCain capped off a night of dismissive behavior toward his opponent by referring to Senator Barack Obama, not by name or title, but simply… 'That One.’ John McCain used the term in a contemptuous sense: I use it in a total admiration and respect,” he explains. “There is a little bit of a tie-in for me personally. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated the year I was born and so in 2008, 40 yrs. later, for me, it has a certain meaning to it. We are now at this point where we have an African-American president. It’s kind of like full circle for me, like my own little triumph, but it’s just an amazing thing to be a part of.”
“I’ve always been very politically minded and I come from a family of very liberal folks and I’ve been doing stuff for a while,” the artist explains. What started out as a small screen print was later acclaimed by Yosi Sergent, the publicist for the man whose “Hope” print is becoming one of the most famous pieces of American campaign art, Shepard Fairey. “I had to bust my hump for about two weeks to get it done. Just barely got it done in time but I did it and it’s definitely a piece of pride for me,” Hampton says.
It may come as a surprise to many that Hampton has only done a handful of paintings. “…the majority of what I do is actually rock posters, screeprints. I’ve done some magazine work for Rollingstone. I’ve been doing artwork – screen prints and working for magazines for about fifteen years – paintings since 2000 off and on. I’m about to get more seriously into it – this is like a real good launching point right here. The response has been good.”
As stated in the Manifest Hope:DC vision, “Art plays a pivotal role in creating cultural momentum.” The art exhibition was an effort to highlight this truth, bringing attention to a host of artists and disc jockeys that banded together to “amplify and motivate the grassroots movement that carried President-Elect Barack Obama to victory” (manifesthope.com).
The atmosphere in D.C. was electric. The opportunity to see the power of politics and the hope it can inspire in people to come together for the good of our country was truly incredible. The monuments and architecture of D.C. was beautiful and it was incredible to walk where some of the most influential people in the United States pass everyday, driving in their bulletproof Mercedes or mingling with the public at Starbucks. The whole experience made me stop and reflect on my role as Student Body President.
“America is now open for business” was one reporter’s paraphrase of Obama’s inauguration speech. My role as president is to connect Student Association with the greater student body, the administration, the community… to let people know that we are “open for business.” Like national politics, what we do here in Student Association has the power to polarize people or bring them together. Student Association must embrace all the contradictions of the students here at North Park in order to find the common themes- education, success, lives of significance and service.
Election excitement does not need to end with Obama’s Inauguration. Student Association is hosting a “Meet the Candidates” event to allow you to question and quiz the students running for next year’s Student Association President and Vice-President. Join us on Wednesday, January 28th from 6 – 7 pm in Java Haus.
For this year's Inauguration, North Park's University Ministries helped sponsor a bus trip out to D.C. for some lucky students to view the historical event. I was going to go with UMin, but redacted my admission at the last minute (losing $50 in the process). There were a few reasons for this: I don't like buses, I don't like people, and I received a jury summons. For security reasons, the bus wouldn't have been allowed near the inaugural site, and I would have been stuck taking public transportation along with three-to-four million other wet, cold, and complaining Proud-To-Be-An-Americans. Furthermore, I would have been out at least $85, assuming that I didn't buy any food before or during the trip. So I ask: what is the one thing that all of us have in common, besides the love of our new President? Our love of Money.
Here are some numbers: It is estimated that an Inauguration ceremony costs about 150 million dollars to organize. Tickets for the swear-in ceremony cost at least $725 each. A ticket for the inaugural ball costs at least $1,300. A ticket for the Illinois State Society inaugural ball costs at least $445. D.C. Metrorail tickets cost between $1.65 and $4.50. The average national price for a gallon of gas as of January 12th is around $1.78. A quarter-water costs only 25 cents! And you can get two packs of mini powdered donuts for a dollar! Holy cojones!
Some people opposed to new presidential cabinets will protest these seemingly gross inaugural expenditures. They will say that the money could be used for better things, like education or healthcare. However, most of the money comes from private sources, and the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) lists these at their website (http://www.pic2009.org/page/content/donors/). Some of the private donations are as low as $250 dollars, and are (listed) as high as $50,000. Tom Eley's January 8th article from the World Socialist Website (wsws.org) unearths some interesting facts regarding the PIC's appropriation of funds. Elrey says "One hundred and eighty-nine donors have raised or "bundled" 87 percent, or $21.6 million, of the total [funds raised so far]."
Obama, to intimate Elrey's sentiment, has attempted to maintain the image of himself as being different or new. He has barred donations from corporations or organizations, and reduced the donation limit to only $50,000, rather than the $250,000 donation limit Bush employed. However, a few donors appear twice on the list - not because they have anything to gain from such magnanimity, but rather, they are simply that charitable and kind-hearted. This is what makes Obama's election so different. There were no lies, no money passed under tables (cf: Blagojevich), and no bad politics. He won because he is a good guy. As the proverb goes, good guys finish first. Experience repeatedly proves the truth of this.
Obama not only represents change, but also the end of the WASParchy that has dominated Capital Hill since America's inception. There are no more rich white guys calling the shots. America likes Obama because he has endured, and is the result of progress that is the tumult of American history. Genuine politicians are so rarely rewarded, and with Obama you get what you see. Though, if you have between ten to fifty thousand extra dollars, you can see even more. (I thought I had $85, but I didn't even have that.) If I were rich, I'd be charitable too. That way I wouldn't have to deal with people, use the Metrorail, or stand in the cold with three million of my closest friends. Next time there's change, I'll make sure I have fifty-thousand-worth. Jury duty - gets you every time.