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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Howard Dean stresses civic engagement

Published: April 16, 2010
Section: Front Page

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

(Photo gallery link)

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman and Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean advocated student activism in politics in his speech to a crowded Levin Ballroom Thursday night.

“Don’t drop the ball now,” he said.

In his first speach to a campus chapter of Democracy for America (DFA), which he created in 2004, Dean expressed this students’ generation is a multi-cultural one and making it fitting that they elect the first multi-cultural president.

“For my generation the election of Barack Obama was an election of lifetime, it was a dream we could not even consider, and you did it,” he said. “Learn from our generation: we exhausted ourselves, we were lied to, it was dirty, we left and we let other people take our places, and that’s how George Bush got elected.”

He said that by 2050 the United States culturally speaking will look similar to California in the sense that there are six large minorities there including Hispanics, Asians, African Americans and American Indians, but there is no majority.

Dean believes this is causing the political landscape to change into something more about being an American and less about partisanship.

Another key message throughout the speech was how monumental the differences between our generation and the generation that is our parents and his. He said “your generation is not socially tolerant or intolerant, you are socially inclusive. When republicans point fingers and they point them at your friend, they’re pointing them at you too and you just wouldn’t stand for it,” Dean said.

“Your generation is able to have friends that are gay because they’ve told you they’re gay, you’re more of a cohesive unit that can do something” he said. “You proved in the last election that you rule this country.”

He said students changed dynamics with his generation by being less confrontational and more calculated about the way it makes change but that they were going to face different challenges in the future for that reason.

“You’ll need to find a commonalty between all people in your community and that’s not the U.S. it’s the entire world because of the Internet,” Dean said. “You’ll have to raise children that can communicate with anyone, with the world.”

He added that politics is about organizing ordinary people for the betterment of your community, it is not just about writing check or running for office, although he added that he hopes that at least some of us pursue that as well. He said having one’s candidate elected doesn’t mean one has won, politics is something that dies if you don’t feed it, “Stand up about what you believe in and be positive about it,” he said.

Dean elaborated on even more positive differences between the generations, “We got one million people to walk on the capital. You got one million people to send emails and shut down the congress computer systems,” he said.

Once of the greatest tools recent campaigns have had access to is the Internet, specifically social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace. Dean is often attributed with the creation of this type of campaigning, however he said, “the internet is the greatest invention since the Gutenberg press.

“But [politicians] didn’t create how to use it we just noticed how it was being used and then adapted it, to suit us and our needs,” he said. He also acknowledged that in the age of the Internet there has been a platform on which bigots and racists can express themselves, “The Internet is a tool, does it have problems? Sure it does. Fox news blogs even have racist remarks and they do it because they can,” he said. “The Internet shows who we really are; what we would never do in the presence of anyone is acceptable behind a screen. Everyone has an ugly side, the Internet just allows us to see more of it.”

Dean was critical of news networks and what they allow people to see.

“If there’s seven people holding signs saying ‘Obama is a Nazi’ that’s what’s going to end up on the news,” he said. He added though that the majority of the “Tea party crazies” shown on television are more than 55 years old and closed minded, adding that they are logical sane people in those organizations that are doing what he supports being an activist for what they are passionate about.

The governor ended his speech by giving what he said is the most important piece of information he can give any student.

“Say who you are,” he said. “To overcome ignorances of other people, you can change their behavior by shunning them, but you can change their hearts by talking to them.”

Dean delivered his lecture for a half hour but opened the floor to questions on any topic for over forty-five minutes. He also gave a fifteen-minute interview to The Hoot prior to the event.

On the health care bill he said that there are a lot of reasons to support it and not support it but in the end, “my president stood up and decided to be a leader in this and I followed,” he said.

“People don’t care about the process, only the results and the people still don’t understand [the results], it will be years before this works.”

He addressed gay rights by saying, “[Employment Non-Discrimination Act] should pass, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a no brainer, and if you keep saying ‘can’t it wait another year?’ nothing ever gets done.”

He added, “If you leave the door open for discrimination against one group, it opens the door for discrimination against everyone … I have no patience for anyone who discriminates against LGBTQ.”

After one student posed a question to Dean asking about promoting activism in such a young naïve community, Dean said, “there are few experts in anything. To say you need to know everything about an issue before you become emotionally invested in it is pointless. Emotions are what makes democracy. I’m not saying that decisions should be made with no knowledge but I would never want to discourage anyone as long as they respect the process.”

On the economy, Dean felt that we need to go back to how the economy was during the Clinton administration and that means that defense is going to have cuts and taxes are going to be raised. He said people aren’t going to be happy about this but when they want all the services, ask them what they would want to cut in order to lower taxes.

When asked about abortion he responded, “abortion is a deep moral issue. I don’t believe in shooting doctors but it should be dealt with personally.”

A student asked about Obama’s plan for drilling and what Dean thought that meant for climate change, “Obama has a great climate change record, he’s worked with the EPA to undo a lot of what Bush did and I really think Copenhagen was a success,” he said.

After criticizing the media several times during his speech, when asked about student journalism and what can be done Dean said, “I don’t think the problem is student journalism but the big business that is journalism. You don’t go into this wanting to do bad but the news wants ratings, what sells. Kerry’s love child would never have made news in my time,” he said. “I think journalism will go through a transition where [journalists] say they’ve had enough. Its not about what the viewers want to know in news, it should be about what they need to know.”

The Brandeis Democrats, GenEd Now, Activists Resource Center, The Ethics Center and the Student Union E-board also sponsored the event.