President's Day Speaker Instructs... and Inspires

Guest Blogger: Tilia Gjata

MARCH 11, 2013

Keynote speaker Dr. Timothy McCarthy, director of the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, delivered an extensive and informative lecture on the topic of "Presidents and the People: The Politics of Social Change in America” at AIC's annual President's Day lecture. Impressively audible as he turned off the mic in front of him, Dr. McCarthy addressed every corner of the audience and was overtly passionate about his premise and ready to teach as well as inspire.

Delving into the heart of the topic, Dr. McCarthy argued that while the president is his (and maybe someday her) own person, major political shifts and policies have been and continue to be the product of social and radical movements promulgated by the American people themselves. Referencing both the founding of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, and even quoting the "All men are created equal” passage, Dr. McCarthy pointed out that America has been run by social movements since its birth.

One example that McCarthy highlighted was the prodigious President Lincoln and his efforts to pass the Emancipation Proclamation. Stating that Lincoln himself was not in fact an abolitionist, McCarthy pointed out that the act of abolishing slavery was a decision that President Lincoln made partially due to the push of the abolitionist movement. McCarthy continued on to give examples of the labor movement and the civil rights movement that ultimately spawned the different policies enacted by President Roosevelt and President Kennedy, respectively.

McCarthy's lecture also highlighted the different advances in communications between the president and the people that have developed over time. Beginning with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, McCarthy points out the evolution of "fireside chats” and how Roosevelt's open communication with the people inspired hundreds of thousands of letters to the White House, and ultimately public opinions pushing for much of the legislation that was passed during the Roosevelt administration. In relation to modern communications, McCarthy presented his own personal experience during the 2008 elections, during which he had subscribed to the Obama Campaign utilization of text messaging. Pointing out the advances of technology and the channels of communications that they have procured between the president and the people, McCarthy concludes that now more than ever people have the ability to voice their opinions and strive to promote the political and social changes they wish to see.

Ultimately, McCarthy addressed everyone in the crowd and pointed a finger at the students and staff, or the American people, so to speak. Emphasizing throughout the lecture the power of radical and social movements and ultimately every American citizen, McCarthy concluded that if we are not active in our opinions and our politics, we will not see progress, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. He stated that as Americans we genuinely have the power to influence our presidents and the political decisions they make over time, if we simply choose to be proactive. As Jesse Jackson once put it, social change is a product of the dynamic convergence of an "energized electorate and an enlightened leader.” As an American citizen and a first-time voter this past election, McCarthy's lecture has urged me to personally be more aware of my role in American politics, and more active.

Tilia Gjata is a junior at AIC. She's also president of the Model United Nations club and the Student Body Representative at Large for the student government.
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