On the 50th Anniversary of the 1968 takeover of the Bursar’s Office, Democratic National Committee Vice Chair and 2004 Medill grad Michael Blake told students that they should all be fighting for each other.
The New York state assemblyman served in the Obama White House as Associate Director of Public Engagement & Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and in 2012 left the the administration to serve as National Deputy Director of Operation Vote for President Obama’s 2012 re-election. Blake came back to campus Thursday for a College Democrats discussion on Faith and Progressive Activism on the National Day of Prayer.
During his time as an undergraduate, Blake was a member of Associated Student Government and worked as FMO coordinator.
Though he came to college fully invested in activism and politics, Northwestern alumni connections got Blake in the game of politics. After a short journalism career, he secured his first political internship with Jeff Schoenburg, then serving in the Illinois statehouse.
Blake said this experience was a turning point for him.
“A woman walked in [to the office] and said if you don’t help me, I’m going to lose my house.”
That struck a chord within Blake, whose mother experienced homelessness while living in Jamaica. Since then, Blake has dedicated his career to fighting for the progressive cause.
Returning to campus as an alumni to attend the Bursar’s takeover commemoration events, Blake said that it’s important to note that the first line of defense for the black students sitting in was a group of white students who surrounded the office, knowing that the police would leave them alone because of the protection of their skin color.
Unity such as the alliances created between white and black students in 1968 has its roots in conversations about shared values, according to Blake.
“We might not all have the same walk, but we have the same journey,” Blake said. “For me, my faith creates my value. Whether you come from a faith background or not, we can probably have some synergy on the values conversation.”
Blake is an Exhorter in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church.
Cameron Peters, the ASG senator representing College Democrats, said that this conversation was fitting for the National Day of Prayer.
“I think it was really interesting to hear a perspective from someone who is involved both on the national level and the more grassroots, local scale,” Peters said.
As a long time community organizer, Blake emphasized that activists have to believe in what they do, but hard work has to back up that faith.
“It never went through my mind that this man [Barack Obama] would not be elected,” Blake said. “Part of my faith was that I just believed—but you had to do the work.”