Never was the politically-charged atmosphere of the Claremont Colleges so palpable as it was last night during Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Athenaeum Ducey Gymnasium at Claremont McKenna College. Between the protests and teach-ins held outside by Pitzer students, who claim that Rice is a war criminal, to the energized atmosphere in Ducey, where the talk was moved to accommodate the protestors, the buzz of excitement was definitely heard throughout the consortium.
The entrance to the talk was crowded with several dozen protesters from the 5C’s and the surrounding community. The gathering of dissenters held signs, which varied in messages from peaceful indignation to vulgar allegations. “War benefits the 1%,” read one sign and another displayed a photo of Rice’s face superimposed on a hyper-sexualized image of Wonder Woman. The protest itself, dubbed “Unwelcoming Condoleezza Rice,” was organized by Pitzer students Emma French ’13, Vincent Giannotti ’12, and Liz Scherffius’13, who hoped to “open a discussion on how foreign policy is, and should be, made.”
When asked whether they believed that the protest — which drew its influence from the Karl Rove Athenaeum protests of 2008 – could possibly be construed as impolite, French responded that “CMC students need to straighten out their priorities; Condoleezza’s crimes are so much more severe than rudeness.” French further explained that the “demonstrators were upset with the protest zone” and felt that it was “not accommodating.” When pressed about the private property laws that would allow CMC administration to expel the protestors from even the zone appropriated to them, French continued to assert that the “restriction had no basis.”
While the event was held and sponsored by CMC, French stressed that the issue was “not about Pitzer or CMC ideology,” but rather about “the larger effect,” and that “making the argument otherwise is incredibly shallow.” Some students did take the time to talk to the protestors, attempting to decipher the argument which “got bogged down in ideological rhetoric,” explains Kyle Gosselin’14, who spoke with the protesters for the duration of the lecture. Gosselin continued that his “impression was that they were expressing their opinions, and even though [he] disagreed wholeheartedly, [he] respects them for getting out there and doing it.” Others, like Sae Bin Park ’12 were not quite so receptive, claiming, “no one cares about liberals at CMC and what they have to say.” Overall, however, French expressed her great satisfaction with the event, explaining that it had turned out “a hundred times better than [she] ever expected,” and that she was “proud that [the protesters] proved [they] could have really strong opinions without being disrespectful.”
The lecture itself began with a lighthearted jab at the evening’s venue change as Athenaeum Fellow Jake Petzold ’12 remarked, “Welcome to the…where are we?” After his introduction, Rice began her discussion on policy-making and her experience as Secretary of State in the President George W. Bush’s administration. Discussing her reaction in the wake of, the 9/11 attack, Rice described the aftermath of that unforgettable day as living every day “like it was September 12th.” Rice also offered commentary on the state of certain countries throughout the world, noting Brazil and India as countries with great liability but expressing her appreciation for the value of their brand of “multiethnic democracy.” Rice went on to call China a miracle, contend that the upheavals and anger in the Middle East are “ultimately a better outcome than the silence of authoritarianism,” and describe the United States of America gone bad as the “biggest challenge to the United States of America.”
Aware of her college audience, Rice also stressed the importance of education and the pursuit of one’s passion as the key to happiness and success. Rice herself was a music major until the end of her sophomore year at University of Denver when she realized that she did not have the talent to play professionally. She then described her path to finding a major, eventually landing on becoming a Soviet specialist noting, “From that moment on, everything started to fall in place.” Rice then expressed her great belief in finding one’s passion, with great conviction in the idea that when you “find your passion, you will be a long way towards happiness and prosperity in life.” With this, she advised students to try something difficult, explaining, that “if you make yourself succeed in things that are hard for you, you will find that you are more fulfilled and that you find greater satisfaction in overcoming something that was hard for you than in doing something that was easy.”
Her words were well-received by CMC students. Hillary Lundberg’14 describes the talk as “witty, honest, and inspiring – rare qualities in someone of her status and experience.”
Rice then took on a half hour of questions from the audience that ranged from her difficulties as a minority female, to foreign relations with Iran and Iraq, to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s “kind of creepy” affection for her. She addressed the administration’s use of water boarding as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” and defended it after the Justice Department deemed it legal before it was used. In response to one question, Rice affirmed that “Iraq is still a lot better off without Saddam Hussein,” and she was “glad that we are not sitting here talking about an arms race, a nuclear arms race between Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Iraq’s Sadam Hussein, and that’s exactly where we would be.” She then went on to dub Iran the “most dangerous country in the world right now,” and suggest that tougher sanctions should be levied against the state. Rice cautioned, however, that for those students who hoped to influence policy, “take it one step at a time.”
Rice closed her talk stating, “I have no problem with protests, this country was born in protests,” in reference to the reactions of many to the decisions made in Iraq. But perhaps in her own nod to the protesters right outside Ducey Gymnasium, Rice noted that when people protest “they need to be sure they’re not getting in the way of others who might want to have a civil dialogue about differences.”
Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that the administration “defended it [an enhanced interrogation technique] as it passed through judicial review before it was used.” The Justice Department reviewed and deemed the action legal and it was not passed through judicial review. This article was updated at 11:30am on December 2, to reflect this change.