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Cynthia McKinney faces critics,
addresses broad range of topics
By Franklin Crawford December 4, 2003

During her inaugural visit in November as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 University Professor, Cynthia McKinney proved to be a loquacious and impassioned speaker as well as a strong advocate for civil rights in the United States and abroad, especially Africa. In two separate public appearances and a press conference, McKinney implored students to think for themselves, to become informed citizens and to engage in the democratic process, whatever their beliefs.

On Nov. 19, she delivered a public talk titled "Confronting Ourselves, Confronting the World: What Kind of America Do We Want in the 21st Century?" in Statler Auditorium. After arriving at Cornell, McKinney decided to change the topic of her presentation -- originally slated as a discussion of women in the military -- to better present the genesis of her views on American politics and foreign policy.

Her partly autobiographical talk also seemed to be an effort to give the roughly 250 audience members a sense of her record as a congresswoman. McKinney was elected to Congress in Georgia's 4th district in 1992 and was the only female member of the state's congressional delegation. After being re-elected for five consecutive terms, she lost her district's primary election in August 2002 after a contentious campaign.

"This past year I've had plenty of time for introspection, even vindication," McKinney said. "I know I was right to ask for accountability from the Bush administration on the [2000] Florida election, 9/11 [and] the $2.3 trillion dollars missing from the Pentagon. ... I authored legislation to stop the use of depleted uranium weapons. ... I was vindicated when the president signed my legislation into law that extended Agent Orange benefits for another 25 years for Vietnam War vets."

She went on to say that she, "gave hope to hundreds of thousands of blacks in Georgia's rural and extremely poor black belt and showed them that they could still believe in America. I didn't compromise their dignity, and I didn't back away from protecting their fundamental rights when they were attacked."

She recalled her days as a student at the University of Southern California and the courage and inspiration she has drawn throughout her life contemplating the works of Martin Luther King Jr.

"I thought about Dr. King many times during my days in Congress when strange people harassed me at my home; I've thought about Dr. King whenever I contemplated the consequences of confronting empire. And I've contemplated his thoughts and life while here at Cornell."

She then described controversial events surrounding King's assassination, focusing on Operation Lantern Spike, the U.S. government's covert military surveillance of King. She also recited portions of King's famous "Mountaintop" speech and recited Robert Kennedy's unscripted appeal to black and white Americans to eschew violence and instead "make an effort to understand" one another "with compassion and love."

In a question-and-answer period that followed, McKinney was asked, "What does it mean to be a patriot?" She responded by saying that "patriotism is in the eye of the beholder." She then recited from George Washington's farewell address to the American Congress in 1796: "Beware the false patriots who would usurp the applause of the people while at the same time betraying their values."

As anticipated, the former Georgia congresswoman's appearance drew critics who challenged her on comments attributed to her in the media: namely McKinney's criticism of Israel and her alleged anti-Semitism, and her alleged comments asserting the Bush administration's foreknowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

During a press conference Nov. 20, McKinney made an effort to clear the record, saying that the "[Jewish] Anti-Defamation League has said I am not anti-Semitic" and that the term should only be "reserved for the most heinous behavior."

McKinney also refuted the allegations that she accused Bush of knowing about the Sept. 11 attacks beforehand.

"With respect to 9/11, let me tell you what I said: I asked a question," she said. "And the question was: What did the Bush administration know -- and when did it know it -- about the tragic events of Sept. 11? Who else knew? And why weren't the innocent people of New York warned? And responsible journalists twisted that."

For those interested in the controversy that followed, which contributed to her defeat in the 2002 Georgia congressional primary, she referred to work by British investigative journalist Greg Palast, particularly an article titled "The Screwing of Cynthia McKinney," and Palast's book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. In the article and in chapters of his book, Palast attempts to verify the sources of the allegations against McKinney and argues that she, in fact, never made many of the statements attributed to her.

Later that day, McKinney visited the Greater Ithaca Activities Center in downtown Ithaca. And on the evening of Nov. 20, McKinney took part in a panel discussion with faculty from the government department and the Africana Studies and Research Center titled "U.S. Foreign Policy: What Are We and What Are We to Become?"

While on campus, McKinney also met with students involved with the Institute for Public Policy at Cornell and attended a reception organized by members of Ujamaa residential college.

Although often challenged by critics during her talks, McKinney told reporters during her press conference that, overall, she'd been "warmly received" by students and faculty at Cornell.


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