"When elites fail, what should we do about it?" Noam Chomsky asked a crowd of Portlanders on Friday. "Simple answer: get rid of them,"
The crowd attending his lecture at The First Unitarian Church downtown loved that opening statement and much of his hourlong lecture, followed by a Q & A - giving him a standing ovation.
At 80 years old, Chomsky is soft-spoken and eager to educate his audience -which ranged from people in their early 20s to people in their 80s.
Chomsky is long-winded and humorously self-aware of it. He spoke about the gap between public opinion and politics. "All of you are dedicated to trying to build democracy from below, but the elites are trying to build it from above," he said. He reminded the audience that President Obama's campaign was the most successful marketing campaign on 2008. "They market candidates like they market toothpaste," he said.
The lecture spanned a variety of topics including foreign policy, the war on drugs, and nuclear arms. On health care reform, Chomsky said a universal or national health insurance system is "not on the agenda" and Obama is making deals with pharmaceutical companies to not touch their drug prices.
His outlook isn't the most optimistic: the government is big business, with its own bottom line, and runs itself that way. He criticizes the Obama administration on how the economic crisis is being handled, saying that Obama's funds come from the financial institutions.
Chomsky donated his time to be a keynote speaker for the weekend long EcoNvergence, a conference focusing on the inter-connectivity of the economic and ecological problems facing the world today. His reflections on the current state of the U.S. are grim. But he seems to inspire people, at least momentarily, to feel like they can participate in changing the way the world operates by standing up for what they think is right.
(photo taken by Anvi Bui)