Surveying the Body Politic: The 2020 Election

Newly-eligible young voters are in the news and on the minds of politicos this year. States of Change, a nonpartisan project studying shifts in the electorate, estimates that Millennials presently constitute 34.2 percent of eligible voters while Post-Millennials make up another 3.4 percent. These two groups combined will virtually equal the share of eligible voters composed of Baby Boomers and the Silent and Greatest Generations; by dint of sheer numbers they could easily determine the election’s outcome – should they register and vote, which is not a given based on historical data. Eligibility and participation are very different questions.

UC San Diego Alumni brings together two commentators to provide context and insight into what is shaping up to be one of the most contentious elections in American history. Moderator Jerri Malana ’86 welcomes political expert and author Thad Kousser, Chair of the Department of Political Science at UC San Diego. They are joined by José Luz González ’20, a Chancellor’s Associates Scholar and UC-DC alumnus who graduated with a degree in Public Health. In a lively conversation the two men offer varied but complementary perspectives on the upcoming election.

Kousser, a seasoned political researcher and pundit, outlines the demographic, economic, and ideological shifts that have occurred since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and discusses how politicians and various components of the electorate have responded to those changes. González offers observations about one increasingly important component in particular, the under-25 voter. He notes that young people coming of voting age this year have recently exhibited a greater interest in politics than the previous generation or two, but stresses that it’s impossible to predict by fata alone whether that interest will translate into an increased presence at the polls in November.

Both Kousser and González also stress the outsized influence of social media on the body politic, and the difficulty in identifying reliable news sources. Other topics discussed include the influence of numerous special interest groups and the voting process itself, including the Electoral College’s role. Throw in such wild cards as deliberate misinformation, extreme partisanship, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and possible foreign meddling, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when contemplating the 2020 Presidential Election. Fortunately, experts like Kousser and González help to guide us through the thicket.

Watch Tritons Tackling the 2020 Presidential Election.

Understanding the African American Freedom Struggle

The Greensboro sit-in was a seminal moment in the Civil Rights movement. Four young black men, students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, sat down at a segregated lunch counter and refused to leave. Their protest sparked a wave of sit-ins around the country. Building on the momentum, students at nearby Shaw University, formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Three years later, the SNCC organized the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream Speech.”

At the time of the sit-in, Waldo Martin was just eight years old, living in Greensboro. But, he knew something big was happening. Martin would go on to study at Duke University and earn his PhD at UC Berkeley, where he is now the Alexander F. & May T. Morrison Professor of American History & Citizenship. In a recent talk on campus, Martin details the history of the African American freedom struggle, and how the Greensboro sit-in built upon a rich history of black youth activism that continues to this day. He also examines how, “African Americans have globalized their freedom struggle by intimately linking it with the freedom struggles of peoples of color around the globe.”

Watch — Deep Soul: Twentieth-Century African American Freedom Struggles and the Making of the Modern World with Waldo Martin

A Moral Imperative

Since its inception in 1985 the Eugene M. Burke Lectureship on Religion and Society at UC San Diego has sponsored more than 70 public lectures in which scholars, theologians, and religious practitioners of various faiths address critical issues in the relationship between religion and society.

One such pressing issue is immigration. The first two decades of the 21st century have seen a sharp rise in the number of global refugees as individuals and families flee war, famine, disease, ethic and political strife, economic hardship, natural disasters, and the effects of climate change. As the number of asylum seekers and other immigrants grows, so too do calls in host countries to deny them entry. Here in the United States both legal and undocumented immigrants face an increasingly hostile political climate. In this installment of the Burke Lectureship two prominent religious leaders, Bishop Robert McElroy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and Imam Taha Hassane of the Islamic Center of San Diego, discuss their respective faiths’ views on immigration while seeking to forge a common path forward.

Both men assert that immigration poses a moral challenge as well as a legal problem, citing the emphasis in both Christianity and Islam on fellowship and fair treatment of strangers. Imam Hassane stresses the importance of hospitality in Islamic tradition, while Bishop McElroy outlines the Catholic Church’s doctrines concerning social justice, especially as they pertain to the poor and the underprivileged. In both instances the Imam and the Bishop believe that giving aid to immigrants is a moral imperative that transcends political dogma. However, neither man is naïve; both understand the difficulties of preaching and implementing a faith-mandated moral course in the face of widespread popular opposition fueled by demagoguery.

How then to proceed? As Imam Hassane points out, the challenge is not merely to change men’s minds, but their hearts. To do less is to fail the moral test. Both the Imam and the Bishop believe that open, honest dialogue is key, not merely with fellow believers but those advocating opposing views, as well as with those in power who are in a position to effect change. Also vital to the effort are public expressions of solidarity with immigrants in the form of peaceful demonstrations, petition drives, and questioning of public officials and policies. The two religious leaders point out that a faith that is expressed only in words and not deeds is a thin faith at best.

Watch — The Bishop and the Imam: A Conversation on Immigration – Burke Lectureship on Religion and Society

Investing in the Future

How do we connect youth who are struggling to the possibility of a brighter future? We meet them where they are with opportunity and compassion. Youth advocates from the spheres of education, non-profit, and health come together in this engaging conversation to talk about how they implement programs, how they navigate challenges, and how they found their career paths.

This panel is part of the Global Empowerment Summit that aims to activates changemakers around collaborative solutions in the areas of empowerment, education, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and social impact.

Watch Guiding Lost Youth to a Better Future – Global Empowerment Summit 2019.

To watch more, please visit https://uctv.tv/global-empowerment-summit/

Between Cultures

“Despite the current attempts to whitewash U.S. history, ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity is the predominant feature of the U.S. experience.” – Charles Musser

Almost from their inception, motion pictures have dealt with the question of cultural assimilation. This was certainly true in America where many of the country’s film industry founders were themselves either immigrants or the children of immigrants, in particular Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews.

In “Racism in German and American Cinema of the Twenties” Yale University’s renowned film historian and documentarian Charles Musser examines this issue by comparing and contrasting two related films: “The Ancient Law” (1923, Germany) and “The Jazz Singer” (1927, USA). While “The Ancient Law” is largely forgotten by today’s audiences, “The Jazz Singer” achieved lasting fame for being the first (partially) talking picture and lasting notoriety for star Al Jolson’s performance in blackface, deemed racist by modern sensibilities.

In E. A. Dupont’s “The Ancient Law,” the Orthodox Jew Baruch Mayer leaves a shtetl in Galicia for Vienna. Mayer pursues a career as a stage actor, much to the consternation of his conservative parents. Released four years later, Alan Crosland’s “The Jazz Singer” was based in part on a hit play but was also a loose adaptation of the earlier film. Baruch Mayer becomes Al Jolson’s Jakie Rabinowitz, who runs away from his strict cantor father to pursue a career as a cabaret singer after changing his name to Jack Robin. “The Jazz Singer” was an immediate hit and made Jolson a star overnight. Musser’s research refutes the commonly-held notion that Jolson was himself a racist, citing his and the film’s popularity with African American audiences at the time. Jolson was considered a friend by the African American community who advocated hiring black actors for stage roles, and his blackface performances were seen as positive portrayals by the very people we assume were offended.

Further, Musser argues that the depictions of the assimilation process in both films were essentially optimistic. In each case the protagonist is able to maintain or reclaim their cultural identity in spite of prevailing attitudes, and to cross the line between two uneasily co-existing cultures without the necessity of fully assimilating into either. Both films are also idealistic in the sense that they downplay the toxicity of racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia. Nevertheless, they (sadly) retain their relevance in the modern world.

Watch — Racism in German and American Cinema of the Twenties: From The Ancient Law to The Jazz Singer with Charles Musser – Holocaust Living History Workshop