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Barney Frank Promotes Student Political Activity

By Frank Dabek

The Democracy Teach-Ins continued last night in Rm. 54-100 with a talk by Rep. Barney Frank, D. Mass 8th. Frank’s free-wheeling and often irreverent speech focused on encouraging students to vote but he also shared his views on gay rights and drug laws.

Frank advocated voting and other forms of traditional involvement in the democratic process as the best means of affecting change.

Frank began by pointing out that “most 18 to 21 year olds militantly refuse to vote.” When students fail to vote they shouldn’t be surprised when they are ignored by politicians.

The majority of Frank’s remarks were dedicated to addressing reasons why students fail to vote. He systematically proposed and debunked common complaints about the voting system.

Frank addressed concerns that voting is complicated by pointing out that voting is easier than getting a driver’s license: “we (as you can sometimes see from the results) do not give a voting test.”

Voting and civil disobedience

Frank devoted a great deal of time to comparing civil disobedience to voting. He pointed out that the great activist movements of this century, led by Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. were forced to civil disobedience precisely because the groups were barred from voting. Such disobedience should be a last resort, he said.

Frank said that while many may consider voting to be “weak tea” and refuse to vote to punish politicians, such arguments are “nuts.” He said that while corporations may be affected, “demonstrations rarely affect politicians.” Negative demonstrations and “being attacked by your enemies only leads to an increase in fundraising,” Frank said.

Frank related a personal anecdote of a sit-in threatened by supporters of Lyndon LaRouche. Frank said that he advised his staff to call the press first, then the police: “I want the credit for arresting them.”

The message the Frank drove home over the course of the address was that voting was a more effective method of influencing government than demonstration. He classified the National Rifle Association as “very effective” but pointed out that they “never had a shoot-in” nor did the American Association of Retired Persons ever hold a “die-in” precisely because they did not need to.

Frank ended his address by stating that “care much more about what you think than you realize.” Politicians “don’t like to care,” Frank said but when voters are mobilized he went so far as to “guarantee that politicians will pay attention to you.”

Gay rights, alcohol addressed

One of the evening’s most interesting moments came in response to a question about students and alcohol. Frank interrupted the questioner, Joel M. Rosenberg G, with the retort “if all you care about is your right to drink don’t write me, I don’t give a shit.” Frank said that he would try to motivate students to vote with issues of abortion rights and federal aid for education but dismissed the importance of students’ right to drink in light of other issues such as racism, homophobia and poverty.

Frank also addressed the issue of campaign finance reform. He questioned statistics which claim that collecting more campaign funds leads to victory. Frank suggested, instead, that winning candidates attract funds: “there are a lot of whores out there who want to give to the winner.”

A question from the audience prompted Frank, who is openly gay, to address the progress of gay rights legislation. Frank compared President Clinton’s commitment to gay rights to John F. Kennedy’s commitment to ending racism. Frank predicted that legal recognition of marriage is “ten years or more away” but was more optimistic about health and pension benefits for domestic partners in the short term. He said that those fighting for gay and lesbian rights have “won the cultural battle” and “homophobics feel really unhappy” about the state of gay rights.

Frank also spoke about his efforts to limit federal restrictions on marijuana in response to another question. He said that his bill to remove possession of marijuana from the list of crimes which disqualify students from federal aid faced a “very uphill fight” mainly because congressmen fear being seen as soft on drugs.