Reed's Kaul Auditorium was packed Friday, February 2. The crowd gave a warm welcome to long-time activist and current NAACP chair Julian Bond, who approached the podium with an air of distinguished confidence. He earned a standing ovation before even opening his mouth to give a speech that was part history lesson and part call to action.
Bond, 67, is a revered civil rights leader, who helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and went on to serve in the Georgia state legislature as both a Representative and as a Senator. In 1968, he was the first African-American to be nominated to the post of vice president of the United States, but he declined because the constitution requires the VP to be at least 35 years old and Bond was only 28 at the time.
Bond was the keynote speaker at Reed's fifth annual Black History Series. “We are such a young nation,” he said. “Only my father's generation stands between Julian Bond and human bondage.” He went on to discuss Hurricane Katrina, noting that it is referred to by some as “a modern-day lynching,” and reminding the audience that “the Gulf War was not removed from the Gulf Coast.”
Bond was nearly mobbed by admirers following his stirring address, but he did grant Hot Action a slice of his time to talk about Barack Obama, gay rights and tokenism.
WW: In your speech, you alluded to the parallels between the struggle for gay rights and the civil rights movement. Can you expand on that a little?
Julian Bond: Well, the connections are not exactly parallel, but nearly parallel. Here are a people being discriminated against because of immutable conditions. And the thing I think the gays and lesbians are facing, the difficulty is that many people believe you can choose to be gay or not to be gay. Of course, that's idiotic, but many people believe that, and unfortunately, I think many black people believe it, too. And I don't think the movement for gay rights is going to progress as quickly as it should unless more and more gay people who are in the closet come out and say, “I'm gay. You know me. I'm your neighbor; I'm your friend; I sit next to you at work; I go to school with your kids. You know me. Don't treat me like I'm some weird thing. I'm a person just like you are.”
WW: Are Black History Month and Women's History Month a form of tokenism that implies that all the other months of the year are white, men's history months?
If you take it that way. I don't. I think there probably was a time when I did, but I don't now. The whole idea of Black History Month, or what was Negro History Week, was that during this week, we'd give special interest to black history, but that black history ought to be a regular part of the curriculum 52 weeks a year, and now, 12 months a year. So, I don't take it that it's a token set-aside, although I'm sure many people do.
WW: What kind of chances do you see for presidential hopeful Barack Obama?
I really don't know. I think it's fairly evident that Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner among the Democrats. She's got a tremendous advantage in name recognition. And even though Obama's been on the cover of many magazines and the front page of many, many stories, she has been a public figure for a long time and her husband is a person of great public recognition in the country. And that is what's leading her into first place right now. The question is can he catch up? And I just don't know. JULIE SABATIER
Check out Hot Action, WWire's weekly post about activists, demonstrations and other hot political action in and around Portland every week.
UPCOMING HOT ACTION EVENTS:
Thursday, February 8
Rally and March for the Oromo people in Ethiopia
This event, organized by the Portland Oromo Community Association, is one of many around the world in solidarity with the Oromo people. The Oromo are the people indigenous to the horn of Africa. The Oromos are struggling for basic human rights, justice, and freedom, democracy and national self-determination, which they say are not available to them under their current government. Meet at Llyod Center Cinema parking lot 9:00am. March ends at Federal building downtown on 3rd St. Free and open to the public.
Friday, February 9
Screening: Mardi Gras Made In China
This film examines follows the life-cycle of Mardi Gras beads from a small factory in Fuzhou, China, to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, using the beads' journey to talk about issues surrounding globalization and labor outsourcing. 7pm at Clinton St. Theater 2522 SE Clinton St. Runs through February 14. Admission $6.
Saturday, February 10
Lecture: Anuradha Mittal
Anuradha Mittal, executive director of The Oakland Institute, is an expert on agriculture, development, trade and human rights. That's what she'll be talking about in her lecture titled “The Myths of Genetic Engineering and the New Green Revolution for the World's Poor.” First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave. at 6 pm. Tickets $8-$20, sliding scale donation to benefit Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering.