By Medha Raman | LSJ Communications Assistant
UW has been home to a number of notable alumni, from martial arts icon Bruce Lee to Jeopardy! legend Ken Jennings. In the modern political sphere, few are more influential than political commentator, analyst, and attorney Angela Rye.
Rye is a UW LSJ alum (class of 2002) and graduate of Seattle University Law School. Since graduation, she has served as the executive director and general counsel to the Congressional Black Caucus, functioned as Senior Advisor and Counsel to the House Committee on Homeland Security, worked at a political advocacy firm in Washington DC, and started her own youth-empowerment organization, IMPACT Strategies. She is currently a political commentator on CNN and has been featured on many media outlets, speaking out on a variety of legal, political, and social issues.
In February, Rye was in Seattle to speak at MoPop’s Black History Month event, “Through the Eyes of Art,” after which we discussed recent events and political issues that affect many college students. This is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
There are a lot of people right now who have feelings about the recent election, especially college students, but don’t know how to take that into action. What would be your advice for such students?
A lot of people talk about not acting emotionally, and I disagree. Now’s the time to actually act out of emotions, out of your anger, out of your frustrations. That doesn’t mean doing anything that would harm anyone, but it does mean that you take a moment to say, “I’m going to lean in to how I feel” and make this protest sign and go to this march or I’m going to tweet out information, or share on Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook. It means trying to find common ground and trying to find community that’s larger than traditional university borders, finding people that are like-minded that will engage in resistance.
I know the frustration and feeling alone in this moment. I know that I certainly feel that way and it feels crazy saying that but I know there are a lot of people out there that agree, but the issue is that it can feel isolating to know that this guy [Trump] won on hate. But, I know that the popular vote is on our side, that majority still rules, and that we still have the power in our hands.
I think a lot of people have friends and family who did end up voting for Trump and only after the election really came out with it. How do you reconcile having a relationship with someone like that with the beliefs and values that are core to who you are?
I think it’s really tough. There’s a number of people who’ve asked me about how to have the tough conversations and I have to be honest in saying, I avoid it for the most part unless it’s something on air and I don’t really lean into those conversations. I’m afraid of what the answers might be, I’m afraid about how I might react. That’s something that still feels raw and is unbelievably shocking to me so I haven't moved into those conversations at all. I probably should, because there are over 40 million people to whom some of what he said made sense. It’s really hard to reconcile.
There are several competing perspectives on the events surrounding Milo Yiannopoulos’s speeches on college campuses. Some people argue that it is his right to be there protected by the first amendment, while others say that his speech is outright hate speech that should be banned from campus. What are your thoughts on the topic?
I think that we shouldn’t give hate a platform and while I appreciate the First Amendment and I appreciate the right to free speech, I think that there should be limitations when people feel like their safety is on the line. We saw of course a rise in hate incidents right after Trump won the election, I think that the numbers climbed to over 800.
I think the reality of it is that folks are really afraid. I know that I feel afraid, I know that a lot of women feel afraid, I know a lot of immigrants who feel afraid, I know people of color, of course, who feel afraid. So I think the reality of it is that we don’t have any obligation whatsoever to protect hate and that is what Milo spews, among many others, including the commander-in-chief now.
Many people have different ideas about why the Democratic Party was unsuccessful this year. What do you think the Party should be taking from this election and what do you think their supporters should be taking away?
I think that they should be taking away that white is not always right. People who care about certain issues don’t care about them based on color, they care about it based on principle. Talk about principles. There’s nothing wrong with embracing people of color and people of different views.
White progressives don’t know how to deal to with black issues better than black people. White progressives don’t know how to deal to issues impacting the Latino community better than Latino people. The same thing with folks in Indian country. We have to respect voices that make up the diversity of the Democratic Party.
In a world of fake news and alternative facts, what do you think the media’s role should be and how do we hold them accountable?
I think the media has an obligation to call the truth the truth and a lie a lie. It is inherently critical to journalism that there is accountability for our leaders. Whether we like them or not, whether we elected them or not, whether we feel like we voted them in or not, I think it’s so important that we utilize our platforms of influence. People rely on us to tell the truth.
Since I’ve been on air, I’ve made it my mission to say if I don’t agree with the folks that I support, because I think it’s important for people to see that there’s not this universal acceptance of craziness or something that’s not quite right. It would be really refreshing to see some of his [Trump’s] supporters do the same thing. I’d like to see a lot more and I’d like to think that anchors and hosts will, hopefully, continue to use their platform responsibly.
What do you think is the most important thing we should be doing right now?
Sitting down, having conversations, building an agenda that multiple people can support. It’s important for communities to be inward facing right now, to hunker down and make sure that foundations are strong, and then to go out and coalition build. I think Reverend Jackson’s idea of a “rainbow coalition” is absolutely right. We are so much more powerful together, when we stand together as Asian, Native American, black people, brown people, and women. We’re so much stronger when we stand together.