Eleanor Igwe ’17
Students, staff and local community members began lining up outside as early as 8 am for a chance to sit inside John M. Greene auditorium and hear from acclaimed political commentator, Rachel Maddow, who was scheduled to speak on Jan. 23 at 10 a.m. Among the more than 2000 attendees were 106 sixth- grade students from Veritas Preparatory Charter School in neighboring Springfield. The crowd filled all the seats in the auditorium and required the use of the two overflow rooms that were set up in Weinstein Auditorium and in the Campus Center Carroll room.
The left-leaning political analyst was invited along with right-leaning political strategist Ana Navarro to speak at Smith as part of a response to the past election cycle. This event was sponsored by Smith College’s Bipartisan Coalition and by the Presidential Colloquium, which has invited guests like Larry Summers and Gloria Steinem in the past.
Speaking to an engaged audience, Maddow began by pointing out that the level of ineptitude of the Trump transition has demonstrated is disturbing regardless of political sensibility. She then moved on to describe what everyday citizens, and especially those that identify as more progressive can do to minimize the damage that is already being inflicted by the Trump administration.
Maddow acknowledged that political predictions, even hers, are never guaranteed, but that there were some alarming observations that she would like to discuss. The main takeaway for many was led in with a quote from an interview with an Obama administration official that Maddow shared: “Democrats need to stop looking to be inspired.” She implored the packed auditorium, “This is work now, everyday work [...] Whatever you thought you were going to be doing this year, your plans have changed. This is everybody’s work now.”
Colgan Powell ’17 shared her take on Maddow’s prepared remarks. “It was interesting that she said that she was not here to inspire us, but I did feel inspired by the end. I really understand why it’s important that we be well-informed and active and constantly aware of the decisions that are being made, especially in the times that we’re in now.” Josie Little ’17 was appreciative of Maddow’s calm as she tempered her somber observations with a wry comparison of Trump and his lack of experience and propriety with an eight-year-old driving a semi-truck while tweeting and smoking crack.
After her prepared remarks, Maddow answered questions that were collected on index cards before her speech. In response to a question about what mistakes she thinks that the media made during this past election, she said that the media was distracted easily by Trump’s stunts and that it’s important to be mindful of people who are able to skillfully manipulate emotions and distract the media. She also acknowledged this mistake was not exclusive to any particular media organization or type of person. Another question was on how to avoid burnout. Maddow, who is a part-time resident of the Pioneer Valley, shared that she likes to relax during her time off by spending time outdoors. Despite the comparably short window of speaking time on a Monday morning, many attendees left feeling fortified in their ability to put in work during their beloved country’s time of need.