Bloomberg Calls on Graduates to Defend Civil Rights

By Krystal Knapp

PRINCETON BOROUGH – New York City Mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg told Princeton University graduates Sunday they have a responsibility to defend the freedoms U.S. veterans have fought for throughout the country’s history.

Bloomberg, speaking at the Princeton University Chapel during the baccalaureate interfaith service, one of Princeton’s oldest traditions, lifted up the nation’s veterans in honor of Memorial Day weekend.

“We remember the men and women who served our nation in uniform, and gave their lives to defend our country and guarantee our freedom,” he said. “They died so that you could say what you wish, worship as you wish, live as you wish. So, before you embark on your new adventures beyond Fitz Randolph Gates, let’s take a moment to remember what obligations we owe to them and what responsibilities we carry with us.”

“First, we must remember that it’s up to us, not just our military, but all of us to stand up and defend it when we see freedom threatened or denied,” Bloomberg said, citing examples of important civil rights issues he has backed, including his defense of the rights of New York City’s Muslim community to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan and his support of a bill that would grant gays the right to marry in New York.

“For me, this is an issue of fundamental freedom and fairness, and the fact that your generation overwhelmingly supports marriage equality is one of the reasons I am so hopeful for the future.,” he said.

“Your generation is tearing down walls here at home and across the world. The revolutions for freedom that now spread like wildfire in the Arab world burn with the anger from decades of suffering and repression,” he said. “But they were lit, in part, by technology that was developed by your generation. No other generation has started revolutions from half-way around the world. Yours has. And you’re only just beginning. There may be no greater way to repay those American soldiers who died for our country than to spread the freedoms Americans enjoy around the world. So keep it up.”

Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat who switched parties and won his first and second terms as mayor as a Republican, then ran as an independent candidate in 2009,  criticized politicians in Washington, DC for partisan squabbling, saying the nation’s leaders must do what is best – not is what is easiest or most popular – to guarantee a brighter future for the country.

“Yet, in government, too often what’s right is less precious than winning re-election,” he said.  “Coming from the private sector, I never cease to be amazed by how many highly intelligent people follow the party line instead of doing what they know in their hearts to be right. Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t play by their rules. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that one party is 100 percent right 100 percent of the time, and the other party is always dead wrong. History shows that no party has a monopoly on good ideas, or God on its side.”

Bloomberg encouraged graduates to make fact-based decisions instead of letting dogma or pressure rule their actions, and said he is encouraged that independents are the fastest-growing block of voters in the country.

“The extreme partisanship in Washington is hurting the country on issue after issue,” he said.  “And the big problem with partisanship isn’t that the two sides disagree on everything and nothing gets done. It’s that they actually agree on about 75 percent of the issues, but they’d rather fight to score political points than make peace to forge progress.”

He encouraged graduates to find time in their busy lives for public service, to seek the truth by asking questions, to take risks, never stop learning, do what they love, “and figure out a way to get paid for it.”