Q&A: CNN commentator says discomfort required for change
CNN political commentator Symone Sanders gave a speech to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King at Student Center South Theater on Thursday as part of Martin Luther King Junior celebration week.
Sanders, who worked as press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, highlighted the need for “bold, radical revolutionary change” led by individuals, not institutions. Sanders took questions from the audience about how they can create the change they want.
The Cougar: With how busy and intense university can be for students, are small actions they do enough for changes they want? Or do they need to think bigger to create change?
Symone Sanders: There are things that people can do to help the cause. I think if at any time students on this campus decide to organize around something, I wouldn’t call that little, because it is the coalition that really brings about the change. So I would encourage students today to pick an issue and attack it. I think change will come about that way.
The Cougar: You said that institutions aren’t the driving force for change, people are. But is there a time institutions are the place people should look at for “radical” change?
Sanders: I do not believe that institutions are the drivers of change. I believe that it’s the people that galvanizes institutions to act. Now change sometimes comes about by way of institutions. The best example is Dr. King and the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. They galvanized the change, but they had to go through Congress to get it codified into law. Congress was not going to act on their behalf just because they felt it was the right thing to do. Our institutions always have to be pushed, in some instances backed up into a corner, to do the right thing.
If you want a college example, look at the University of Missouri. It wasn’t until Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike and all this national attention came in. These students were shutting things down all over the campus, challenging the administration. Football players decided they were not going to play. When change came about, even though the school knew the right thing that they should be doing, even though they knew things were problematic, they were not galvanized to act until pushed. So I think our institutions always have to be pushed.
The Cougar: Why aren’t institutions galvanized to act unless they are pushed?
Sanders: There’s no reason for them to. They have to be pushed back, because what they’re doing, they clearly think it’s okay and it’s comfortable for them. As long as people are comfortable, change isn’t going to happen. Change comes when people become ridiculously uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that they don’t want to do this. I think a part of being a radical revolutionary is kind of always living in a state of uncomfortableness. I’m uncomfortable on a regular basis. The day I get very comfortable in what I’m doing, I need not do it anymore. So I think our institutions, many of them are comfortable, because the status quo. They’re comfortable with the way things have been, many people have profited and benefited from the status quo.
And again, it’s not until folks that are like “this isn’t working for us” come along and push these institutions to a state of constant uncomfortableness that change happens.
The Cougar: You said younger people are the ones that tend to bring about change in history. Why do you think it’s typically younger people?
Sanders: It’s younger people because we just hadn’t been here before. We see things that we don’t like and we’re like, “What can we do to change it?”
Sometimes more seasoned individuals, they can’t see. When you’re in it, sometimes you can’t see. And I think younger people have the benefit of not being immersed in it. They have the benefit of coming from outside and seeing, looking around taking survey of the land and saying, ‘Actually it shouldn’t be like this.’ And not only shouldn’t it be like this, it doesn’t have to.
I grew up with people telling me I can be and do whatever I want to be if I put my mind to it. That is manifesting itself in movements all across the country.