Former New Orleans mayor talks unification, patriotism at Kent State

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu unified a crowd of listeners at Kent State through a speech focused on patriotism, activism and coming together as human beings. 

Landrieu visited Kent State as part of the university’s May 4 Speaker Series, leading up to the 50 year anniversary of the tragic events of May 4, 1970. 

Landrieu served as the mayor of New Orleans from 2010-18, following 16 years in the state legislature and two terms as the lieutenant governor of Louisiana. In 2015, Landrieu was named “Public Official of the Year” by Governing Magazine, and in 2016 he was recognized as “America’s top turnaround mayor” following a Politico poll of mayors.

Before his speech, Landrieu met with campus political leaders to discuss his time in politics. Tyler Gardner, a sophomore public communications student and member of the College Democrats, met with Landrieu, who he said seemed extremely genuine and honest. 

“When you are not running for office you can speak your mind more… it is good to get the perspective of someone who has been through the political process and public service and is now out of office,” Gardner said.

Landrieu made headlines in 2017 when he took the step to take down four confederate monuments in New Orleans, spurring a political fight in the city. 

In his book, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History” Landrieu describes his fight to remove the statues and provides his opinion that the statues were not in place to honor heroes, but to distort the true, inhumane history of the American South.

During Landrieu’s presentation at Kent State, he explained his struggle to remove the monuments, but also explained why it was important they be taken down.

“I think it is interesting that Kent State is leaning into this topic,” Gardner said of the conversation. “I appreciate that the school is willing to have these types of discussions.”

Much of Landrieu’s speech revolved around race and the current political environment of America. 

“We’ve allowed ourselves to be divided by anger, by hate and by fear,” Landrieu said. “Race and ethnicity is once again being used as a tool to divide us, to make us feel like we have less in common than we actually do.”

Landrieu explained times like May 4, times that bring America together over a common tragedy, do not have to be the only times citizens band together for the greater good. 

“We shouldn’t need a storm, or a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack, or an impeachment proceeding to show us how we come together,” he said. “In fact, if we choose to, and this is a choice, one that you have to make, we do not have to be divided.”

Gardner said one of the most influential parts of Landrieu’s speech was the focus on coming together as a nation despite differences and finding a middle ground. 

“He said we are all in the same boat,” Gardner said. “I think that is really relevant even across political lines, we are fighting for a lot of the same things. Sometimes we lose sight of that.”

Freshman public relations student Benjamin Vrobel said he was most impressed with Landrieu’s passion and the bravery he displayed politically.

“He is so courageous compared to other mayors and politicians. He is not afraid to stand up for what he believes,” Vrobel said. “I think the most important takeaway from the speech is being able to look at the differences between people, without using them to divide us.”

Following the speech, audience members had an opportunity to ask individual questions, which ranged from questions about Landrieu’s book, the monuments and his take on what the average person can do to strengthen the country.

Landrieu brought the crowd together at the end of his speech, reminding listeners the actions of student activists at Kent State in 1970 were acts of true patriotism.

“We are better together than we are apart. These fundamental and essential ideas: our freedom, our diversity, our indivisibility, are being challenged and proclaimed as weaknesses,” Landrieu said. “True patriotism is not rooted in false salutations, but in holding our government accountable to represent us all, which is what those four students were doing on May 4, 1970.”

Contact Katie Null at [email protected]