Artist Boots Riley speaks at 2020 MLK celebration, graduate union 20-year anniversary

Writer, director, rapper and speaker Boots Riley came to Corvallis on Friday night to talk about his film “Sorry to Bother You.” He spoke about capitalism, and how normal citizens can use their voice.

Jade Minzlaff, News Contributor

The Oregon State University King Legacy Advisory Board and the Coalition of Graduate Employees invited the writer, director and activist Boots Riley to speak at their joint 2020 MLK Celebration and CGE’s

20-year anniversary. 

The celebration was held at the LaSells Stewart Center on Friday, Jan. 24, and featured a moderated discussion with Riley, primarily on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy as a radical and his thoughts on contemporary labor, race and class struggles. Unions were a prominent part of Riley’s 2018 film “Sorry to Bother You,” a surrealist comedy featuring a telemarketers strike. Riley is also the frontman of The Coup, a leftist hip hop group founded in 1992. 

Winston Kennedy, vice president of social justice in CGE and third-year Ph.D candidate in kinesiology, was one of the CGE members who helped bring Riley to campus. 

“Because of his connection to organizing, he has a rich history of just speaking on unions and the power that has,” Kennedy said. “He talked a lot about that in his talk, and a lot about solidarity, and that connection with Martin Luther King’s social justice initiatives, he felt like the perfect choice for something like this.” 

During the discussion, the current CGE petition advocating for salary caps for OSU leadership was discussed, with the goal of redistributing the wealth that would otherwise go to salaries of leadership to instead benefit students and graduate employees.  

CGE is currently in the process of negotiating with OSU management for their contract in the upcoming cycle, and will hold their next bargaining session on Feb. 12 in the Westminster House. 

Ida Phillips, a CGE member, Ph.D candidate in comparative health sciences, and chair of the membership committee in the Corvallis/Albany branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was tabling for the NAACP at the celebration. Phillips said that the event aligned with the goals of their organization. 

“For the NAACP, our national mission is to secure economic and social power for black people and people of color, and that aligns with the Martin Luther King advisory board and CGE. By collaboration, we are able to create a more intersectional approach to justice,” Phillips said. 

Riley connected CGE’s current work negotiating with OSU to the broader state of political awareness in America. 

“More and more people are discovering, they’re understanding that our power is to be found in the workplace. And right now, because we’re at a university, CGE is not only doing the good work of organizing at their workplace, but they’re teaching students a lesson that the university might not otherwise teach. Which is, not just to figure out what the problem is, but to do something about it, and to threaten to withhold their labor in order to achieve that change,” Riley said.

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