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Organize locally, ILR School alumni urges during Konvitz Lecture

A national strategy alone cannot solve U.S. political issues, people need to organize locally, Basil Smikle Jr. '93 said in the annual Konvitz Lecture at the ILR School April 25.

“The best influencer is not an elected official, but it is your neighbor or your friend,” said Smikle, an ILR graduate. “In the end, it all comes back to you, you really are the new voice and you have to house the platform and venue that works for you.” 

Director of Hunter College’s Public Policy Program, where he is a distinguished lecturer, and of the Roosevelt House Institute for Public Policy, Smikle said the current political climate makes people afraid to have conversations with one another and that has reduced our civic spaces. “If we don’t have common truths, we cannot have conversations that are meaningful to us.” 

Smikle urged the audience to fight divisions by getting involved in local political party activities, describing how he met with county-level Democratic Party organizations in New York state’s 62 counties when he served as executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. 

The recorded lecture, entitled "New Voices and New Venues: Organizing Against the Assault on Democratic Principles,” can be seen here.

The Konvitz Lecture was founded in 2006 by Joan Jacobs '54 and Irwin Jacobs '56. Joan Jacobs graduated from the College of Human Ecology. Irwin Jacobs graduated from Cornell with a degree in electrical engineering.

The couple, from San Diego, Calif., continues to sponsor the event, named for the late Professor Milton Konvitz, an ILR School founder. In a popular course called "American Ideals," Konvitz taught students from across the university about the U.S. Constitution. A leading authority on constitutional and labor law, and civil and human rights, Konvitz was a professor at ILR and Cornell Law School from 1946 until retiring in 1973.

Amira Shimin ’25 is a student writer for ILR Communications.

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