Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was the headline speaker at the University School of Law centennial convocation last Friday. He discussed the relationship between unjust business practices and a rapidly deteriorating environment, and said schools like the USF School of Law should continue to focus on bettering the world. The University of San Francisco School of Law is celebrating 100 years in the city this year, hosting events from September through May.
Robert Kennedy Jr.’s presence brought a nostalgic atmosphere to the university, as people remembered when his father, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was the keynote speaker for the Law School’s 50th anniversary in 1962.
Kennedy, Jr. is an environmental lawyer and has worked on the presidential campaigns of former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. He is also the founder and president of the multinational clean water advocacy nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance.
“The duty of all Americans is to protect the environment,” said Kennedy, Jr. in his speech. According to him, protecting the environment is the best way to ensure that a true form of democracy and real capitalism thrived in the United States.
With the United States’ current trend toward weak regulation of businesses, he said, not only was the nation’s environment in jeopardy, but so were basic, founding ideals of democracy. Having the market as it is currently structured — where large corporations and other interests effectively buy politicians in order to ensure their agendas are promoted, no matter how illegal — is a “science fiction” nightmare, Kennedy Jr. said.
For Kennedy, one of those companies of concern was Coca-Cola. As one of the largest business entities in the world, Coca-Cola directed 3.4 million dollars to Washington politicians. Unregulated, massive spending such as this, Kennedy stated, seriously skewed the American ideal of a “true free market” into a tainted process sustained by what he called a corporate “pay-for-play” system.
Kennedy returned continually to the issue of wholesale mountaintop removal in West Virginia by large coal companies for the purpose of extracting coal and other minerals below the mountain. The companies, according to Kennedy, have a near complete stranglehold on the West Virginia legislature, citing that even though 85 percent of West Virginians strongly oppose mountain top removal, finding a single legislator in the state that opposed the practice is rare, if non-existent.
Those who attended the event felt the take-aways from Kennedy’s speech were significant. While Kristina Larayo, a liberal studies major, said Kennedy’s speech enlightened her to many of the issues that plagued the nation, she also said her hope was renewed and that, “the nation would be great again.”
Richard Burchett, a student at the School of Law, said it was nice to, “bring the focus back to social justice work”—the reason many aspiring law students attend USF.
To conclude the ceremony, Fr. Privett reinforced Kennedy’s message, adding that we “humbly walk together through life.”