Gore Gets Rousing Response at Howard University Campaign Stop
By Jamilah Evelyn
Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore worked an easy crowd and shored up his Black vote last month on a campaign stop at Howard University, appealing to a standing-room-only crowd and a group of potential voters who overwhelmingly back him.
Gore gave small nods to higher education — pitching his college-savings tax-relief plan and noting the important role that historically Black colleges play in educating minorities.
Speaking to a crowd of about 1,600 students, teachers and lawmakers at the historically Black school, the vice president enjoyed a thunderous greeting from a crowd waving Gore-Lieberman signs and chanting “We want Gore! We want Gore!”
At the event, Gore said he wants to hire 100,000 new public school teachers, give big bonuses to people who teach in under-served areas and offer paid leave to teachers for professional development.
He touted another centerpiece of his proposal — allowing families a tax deduction or 28 percent tax credit on up to $10,000 in college tuition and fees, a maximum tax break of $2,800. He also said he wants to reduce class sizes in the nation’s public schools.
Gore’s visit to Howard came shortly after Republican presidential candidate George Wl. Bush visited Dillard University (see Black Issues, Sept. 14).
Howard President H. Patrick Swygert says he thought Gore did well by touching on a lot of issues that concerned his students and the Black community at large.
“I would like to see more discussion in this election season in general of the financial support needed to invest in technology,” Swygert told Black Issues. “That’s a very important issue that’s only going to become more important in the future. It’s certainly going to be critical to all of us at HBCUs.
“But I take heart in the fact that the vice president has been identified with technology and at the same time, he’s wedded technology, higher education and access,” Swygert added.
Gore did speak about racial profiling in the wake of the recent police shooting of Howard University student Prince Jones. Howard students largely view Jones — unarmed and shot six times last month by a
Prince George’s County police
officer — as a victim of police brutality.
Bonyonoh Wojloh, a Howard freshman from Baltimore, says that Gore’s attention to issues that mattered to the students made his speech a success.
“He really touched us when he touched on the main points that mattered to us,” Wojloh says. “I think there was a respect there. That’s where the bond was.”
But some Howard University audience members were skeptical of Gore’s motives at the event, where he also promised to improve schools and make higher education more accessible, if elected.
“It’s definitely a political strategy to come to a Black university with a young minority vote,” says Saleemah Speller, a junior from New York. Speller says she would still vote for Gore.
So will Cotilya Brown, an 18-year-old Howard University freshman who already registered to vote. “Not even an earthquake could keep me away” from the voting booth, she says.
But the Gore campaign event didn’t go off without a hitch. There were scattered complaints about signs provided by the campaign, “African Americans for Gore-Lieberman.” Some students ripped the word “African” off, colored over it or folded it down.
Isaiah Morrisey, who kept his sign intact, says students were trying to make a statement that they are Americans first.
“A lot us of don’t want to be seen as African Americans. They were raised here. Our ancestors came from Africa, but we want to be seen as Americans,” the 23-year-old senior from San Francisco says.
With solid Black support, the presidential nominee’s focus is boosting turnout among a group that has not gone to the polls as often as Whites. About half the Black population has voted in recent elections, or 5 percent to 10 percent less than Whites, according to the Census Bureau’s report.
“There is still a lower and lower participation in our democracy. Why is that?” Gore asked the students. “Disillusionment. … Cynicism, disaffection, civic lethargy are the enemies of progress.”
Later that same evening, Gore spoke to an overflow crowd that included Black
Clinton-Gore administration appointees where he defended affirmative action.
“When I hear the other side say affirmative action is unnecessary — please give me a break,” Gore said. “We need affirmative action for the good of the entire nation.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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