Jesse Jackson's speech was well-organized

Well, mostly.

Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke at Price Center on the evening of Oct. 5 to a crowd of about 400 students. Unlike last year’s bungled visits by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman and Dell Computers founder Michael Dell, the Jackson rally benefited from a large staging area. Gates was holed up in Price Center Ballroom, which strictly limited the number of potential audience members. Compounding the problem was the significant number of seats reserved for Preuss School students and the scores of nonaffiliates in the audience. Lieberman spoke at Robinson Auditorium of the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies ‹ a room that would’ve seated about 100, should 100 people have bothered to show up. Dell sat in the IR/PS room too, but the event was so crowded with off-campus community members that hundreds of students were turned away.

Jackson’s stage was set up in front of UCSD Bookstore. Potentially thousands could have seen him, and about 400 showed up. The relatively high turnout was due to mass publicity through posters around campus and e-mails sent to student clubs’ listservs. Less than one-third of the number of Jackson attendees showed up for last spring’s Lieberman event, even though Lieberman was actually running for president, whereas it’s been 18 years since Jackson’s last run for office. No one knew about Lieberman because the event’s organizers ‹ UCSD administrators ‹ didn’t bother to advertise much. The man could be our next president, and his audience was half empty. On a side note, then-Chancellor Robert C. Dynes didn’t show up either, although he made a point of appearing on stage with Gates. Just goes to show where his priorities were.

Jackson didn’t draw a crowd of administrators either, which turned out favorably. Organized by the A.S. Office of External Affairs, Jackson’s appearance lured mostly students. Everyone appearing on stage with Jackson was a student. Before the speech, students performed their own raps and read poetry. This is how a UCSD event should be. The university is meant to serve the students, not the administrators and not the community at large. When high profile speaking events are organized by non-student administrators, students’ interests are ignored. It takes a student-run event to cater to students’ needs. This one fit the bill.

Further evidence of this is the question-and-answer session that followed Jackson’s speech. Any audience member with a question could ask for a cordless microphone. Jackson made a point to answer as many questions as he could, even turning around and coming back as he prepared to leave the stage to answer one final student.

This contrasted sharply with the Gates lecture. Questions posed to the Microsoft chairman were submitted on note cards and screened by a moderator. Far too many of the questions were the inane ramblings of Preuss school 15-year-olds rather than intelligent, well thought-out inquiries from UCSD undergraduates. The Lieberman lecture was interrupted both by zombies from the Lyndon LaRouche presidential campaign, and by members of the community with more mindless queries.

The reverend’s appearance was helped by its timing, as well. Held on a Sunday evening, most UCSD students were free to attend. The ³Discussion with Bill Gates,² as it was advertised, was held on a weekday afternoon. Those who attended probably missed class to do so. Lieberman appeared at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m., when only the most dedicated science majors are awake. The poor political science students for whom Lieberman’s lecture would’ve been of greater interest would not have awoken for another hour or two.

The only problem with Jackson’s speech was the markedly political content. The A.S. Council has been embroiled in some controversy over its use of student fees for political lobbying, and its sponsorship of Jackson’s appearance ‹ which included payment of $1,000 for his security ‹ could jeopardize the student government’s tax-exempt status.

But logistically, the event was well-run. Good turnout plus a notable figure and student involvement equals a successful evening. If only FallFest went as well, the A.S. Council would be two-for-two. The administration should really start consulting students before scheduling big-name speakers. Those old guys could learn a few things.