Former President Bill Clinton spoke to approximately 3,000 people on Nov. 3 at UCLA’s Royce Hall about the pivotal role of political involvement in the upcoming presidential election.
Clinton’s speech focused on the need for younger people to become informed and participate in the election that’ll potentially have significant effects on issues such as poverty, immigration and global warming, depending on who becomes U.S. president.
“Don’t ever let this election be taken away from you,” Clinton said. “The choices that will be made for the next president and the next Congress will have a profound impact on how you will live the entire rest of your lives.”
Persistent inequality, unsustainable energy consumption and identity conflicts are the three major challenges the new generation faces, Clinton said.
“We have 12 million people here who are not documented,” Clinton said. “No one really thinks we could just throw them all out.”
The former president encouraged the audience to become educated on the issue of immigration and look beyond superficial arguments about problems that have been oversimplified on television.
“If we turn immigration into a 30-second sound bite, then forces of division and fear will win,” Clinton said. “This is a serious issue that does not have an easy answer.”
The environmental consequences of current energy consumption will have a direct, negative impact not only on the economy, but also on the well-being of people around the world if the country continues to ignore the problem of global warming, Clinton said.
“United States has to resume its leadership,” Clinton said. “We have to have success with Kyoto. We have to sign on to it. We need to get it in a hurry. It is the key to your economic prosperity in the future.”
The Kyoto Protocol is an international environmental treaty created in 1997 by the United Nations to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Clinton said the United States refused to sign the treaty because of the false notion that it would bankrupt the economy.
The 2008 presidential election will also decide whether other countries see United States as a diplomatic partner who’s only willing to use force as a last resort in a conflict, Clinton said.
To achieve these goals and secure a better future, it’s necessary to earn a good education, to become a good citizen and to go out and vote, Clinton said.
“It is unconscionable that with the depth and complexity of the elections, the issues facing America and the world, that our voter turnout is as low as it is, especially among young people who have much more at stake,” Clinton said. “They have more tomorrows than yesterdays than older people do.”
Tom Clifford, a sophomore government major from Clermont McKenna College who is vice president of the Clermont McKenna’s chapter of College Democrats, said the most important topic Clinton discussed was the continuing socioeconomic inequality in America.
“He got into some specific issues about global warming, about interdependence, and I think what’s really important is the equality problem,” Clifford said. “It’s important that our economy is strong, but it has to be strong for everyone.”
Clifford said he’s heard Clinton speak before, but the UCLA event inspired him to accomplish more policy work instead of constituent relations when he leaves next semester for an internship in Washington, D.C.
Jasmine Patterson, a graduate student majoring in education at Pepperdine University, said she was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of the audience at the Royce Hall.
“The students, it is amazing to see them so excited and so aware of issues,” Patterson said. “I never had that experience. If it weren’t for my parents, I would still be in the bubble of Orange County.”
Patterson also said global warming is an important issue, but it can’t be resolved without first resolving poverty.
“How can you address global warming if you don’t have food in your stomach?” Patterson said. “There are basic needs that have to be met first before you can even think about issues that are larger.”
The speech was part of the Empower Change Summit hosted by the American Democracy Institute, a non-profit education and research center.
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