Clinton and Orfalea Chat About NGOs and Globalization
by Martha Sadler
The scene outside the Arlington Theatre Friday afternoon, where people lined up for former president Bill Clinton’s appearance, was marked by lively passions, chief among them a fierce nostalgia for the 42nd presidency. A town-square atmosphere reigned: News-Press union activists reminded people to cancel their subscriptions, while foreign policy activist Nancy Tunnel passed out leaflets accusing Clinton of keeping mum about plans to invade Iraq. Physician Dr. Samia Saad wore a blue sari and a large sign around her neck that read, “I am from Darfur and I exist.” She said that many Africans are naming their children Clinton these days, in honor of the work he’s done there since leaving office. Saad was at the event to hand-deliver a letter to him about conditions in Sudan.
Clinton brought his star power to a fireside chat at the Arlington with Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, who began the multinational corporation now known as FedEx Kinko’s with a copy machine on an Isla Vista sidewalk. UCSB, his alma mater, is now inaugurating a global studies masters degree program bearing Orfalea’s name. In addition, the Orfalea Family Foundation has made a $400,000 commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) focusing on poverty, climate change, health, and peace. Cheers kept coming from the large contingent of UC students in the audience, including some who camped out overnight in front of the university’s box office to get one of the 600 tickets given away to students. Seated stage left on two leather-bound chairs, Clinton and Orfalea, prompted by questions from Direct Relief International’s Thomas Tighe, discussed NGO management issues, such as what they are looking for in an NGO worker. (“The light in their eyes,” said Clinton. “Initiative, accountability, and candor,” said Orfalea.)
The former president ranged onto other topics, including Darfur. He reiterated an idea he first ran up the flagpole in 1993, that the UN should have a standing army — perhaps 50,000 troops on-call and ready to respond to genocide. He later preached on the subject of faith, quoting St. Paul from the first Epistle to the Corinthians: “For now I see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; how I know in part but then shall I know also as I am known,” noting grumpily that this passage does not belong at weddings because it is not about romantic love but charity. He warned against a “religious heresy afoot in the world that all faiths must acknowledge,” namely the attitude that any one of them has an exclusive claim to truth. Along the same lines, Clinton regretted that American political dialogue has been increasingly dominated by ideology, giving a mini-lecture on the difference between that and philosophy. Ideology is all attack and defense, he said, whereas in philosophical discussions, “We learn from each other because we’re different and we’re thinking.”
There was some consensus that Clinton must be touring to test the waters for a possible presidential run by Hillary, though he mentioned her only once, with reference to their having met Bangladeshi Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Clinton did say that if he were campaigning for president this year, “I’d almost run on nothing but energy.”
Despite some hope that Clinton would take questions from the crowd, as he has done before, or that they all would just keep chatting as they seemed inclined to do, Tighe practically pushed them offstage after little more than an hour so that the theater staff could prepare the auditorium for that afternoon’s movie. Finally, after shaking hundreds of hands from the edge of the stage, Clinton walked off holding in his hand the letter from Dr. Saad.
The event was a fundraiser for UCSB’s Global and International Studies program. To learn more about G&IS and/or to view the entire Clinton/Orfalea discussion online in streaming video, visit www .global.ucsb.edu.