O’Connor teaches politics to activists

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February 10, 2009

1:15 AM

Chancellor of the College of William and Mary Sandra Day O’Connor spoke at the Alumni House Sunday morning to a group of students and activists from across the state of Virginia.

O’Connor took questions from students about the best ways to effect political change on campus and in the community.

The event was sponsored by Virginia 21, a coalition of over 45,000 members with 45 chapters at colleges and universities across the state. Virginia 21 advocates the issues that affect college voters in Virginia, such as the price of tuition and textbooks.

The former Supreme Court justice first addressed the importance of bipartisanship and persistence in taking political action, assuring the audience that “it is possible to get people of different views together to solve the issues.”

O’Connor then asked the students about issues currently confronting the College.

Due to recent concerns, the first question addressed the housing restrictions in campus communities, particularly the three-person law in Williamsburg, which limits the number of unrelated people who can live in one house.

O’Connor advised students to use strength in numbers to back a compromise with city governments.
“You have the clout,” she said. “If you come up with some kind of solution, you might be heard.”

She also asked whether or not the College has ever supported a student-friendly candidate to run for city government, and some of the crowd brought up the Matt Beato campaign from the spring of last year.

“He was a student? Uh-uh,” O’Connor said, wagging her finger at the audience. “You need to get someone, maybe a friendly aunt or uncle [to run],” she said, noting the importance of having a candidate who could relate to a broader demographic of the Williamsburg community.

Another question was on how O’Connor’s political career began. The Chancellor described the challenges of finding a job as a woman lawyer in the late 1950s, and emphasized the value of taking advantage of every opportunity.

“Be creative,” she said, “If you make something out of what you are able to do, you will be noticed.”

The final question addressed the issue of partisan redistricting in Virginia.

“States have the power to change this system, but most of them won’t,” O’Connor said, acknowledging the challenges of changing laws which benefit lawmakers.

Again, she advocated the importance of compromise and patience when lobbying for political change.

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