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Cornel West Opens Democracy Teach-Ins

By Nanaho Sawano, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Professor of Afro-American Studies Cornel West made an impassioned speech about the necessity of the younger generation maintaining the ideals of democracy in the face of the "MacDonaldization of the world" yesterday evening.

Save for a few hecklers, hundreds of Harvard students and Cantabrigians packed into Harvard Hall, seemingly enthralled by West, and, upon the speech's conclusion, gave him a lasting ovation.

"Democracy is about dialogue and action, also courageous participation. You have to push yourself to an abyss--recognize you can make a difference," West said.

Speaking in characteristically nuanced tones, West said that Harvard had a special duty to help maintain democratic dialogue.

"As the richest, oldest institution, [Harvard affiliates] can't become just purveyors of market calculation," West said.

While careful to say that he was not entirely opposed to capitalism, West's speech was marked by his critique of market values.

"The stock market is at a record high, yet 80 percent of Americans are wrestling with stagnating salaries," West said. "There are just too many folks who are suffering, and that's not necessary."

West spoke of the dangers of the current period of "transition," where he said the growth of transnational corporations have contributed to the decay of democratic institutions which could serve as controls on wealthy and powerful elites.

West called upon Harvard students to maintain a fighting spirit against such corporate trends.

"Is the younger generation up to the task? Is any generation? But if we don't take on market culture, it will take over more and more souls.... The prospects of American democracy will darken," West said.

Noam I. Weinstein '99 said that West's words struck a chord within him.

"It seems to me that the three biggest impediments to justice are myopic ethics, poor reasoning and fear of open intellectual combat.... To the extent that events such as this one combats [these problems], I am grateful," he said.

West was the keynote speaker for Democracy Teach-In, a week-long extravaganza of speakers, discussions, panels, movies and cultural events. Harvard is one of about 110 college campuses participating in Democracy Teach-In this week.

The teach-in is being organized by representatives from various student groups, including the Black StudentsAssociation, the Progressive Student LaborMovement and the Undergraduate Council.

According to the organizers, the goal of theDemocracy Teach-In is to promote active politicaldiscourse among students.

West said that he was happy to see so many turnout for his oratory.

"I'm inspired to see you all here gathered forthe first democracy teach-in in a while," he said.

Still, despite the crowd that West drew, morethan 75 percent of the audience left with him,missing the student panel debate on campus apathyor activism. For some, this departure served as anironic commentary on the panel's question, butorganizers remained optimistic.

Jennifer F. Wagner '01, one of organizers ofthe event, said that she understood the timeconstraints that the Harvard student faced, butthat those who did not remain missed a greatopportunity to learn.

"I was disappointed that people left, becausethe people on the panel were really well-spoken,"said Wagner.

Sewell Chan '98, a panelist and former Crimsonexecutive, echoed West's concerns, and saidHarvard was often isolated from a world where theleast-skilled Americans continue to live ininner-city and rural poverty.

"The Harvard that has opened its gates to themost diverse student body in its 360-year historyis the same Harvard that is..a breedingground...for the professional, cultural andeconomic elite," Chan said

According to the organizers, the goal of theDemocracy Teach-In is to promote active politicaldiscourse among students.

West said that he was happy to see so many turnout for his oratory.

"I'm inspired to see you all here gathered forthe first democracy teach-in in a while," he said.

Still, despite the crowd that West drew, morethan 75 percent of the audience left with him,missing the student panel debate on campus apathyor activism. For some, this departure served as anironic commentary on the panel's question, butorganizers remained optimistic.

Jennifer F. Wagner '01, one of organizers ofthe event, said that she understood the timeconstraints that the Harvard student faced, butthat those who did not remain missed a greatopportunity to learn.

"I was disappointed that people left, becausethe people on the panel were really well-spoken,"said Wagner.

Sewell Chan '98, a panelist and former Crimsonexecutive, echoed West's concerns, and saidHarvard was often isolated from a world where theleast-skilled Americans continue to live ininner-city and rural poverty.

"The Harvard that has opened its gates to themost diverse student body in its 360-year historyis the same Harvard that is..a breedingground...for the professional, cultural andeconomic elite," Chan said

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