April 2019 – Speaking at Drew University, former GOP presidential candidate John Kasich called for less hand-wringing about politicians and more hands-on activism.
Through a series of anecdotes about individuals who bettered the lives of others, Kasich illustrated the power of personal action and urged a crowd of nearly 600 to think about what they can do as well.
“We’re all part of a puzzle, a mosaic that can come together to serve our communities, to make the world a much better place,” said Kasich, whose Drew Forum talk was presented by the Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lectureship. “And so, we have to think about our legacy—who we are, what we do.”
The former U.S. congressman and governor of Ohio added that “what’s going to heal our country and restore the soul of our country is what you and I do in some way big or small. Martin Luther King said if you can’t do a big thing, then do a small thing in a big way. I love it.”
Stepping away from a lectern and moving closer to the crowd, Kasich peppered his remarks with references to local issues and former New Jersey governors Tom Kean and Christine Todd Whitman, both of whom he admires. Kean, who was in the audience, is also a former president of Drew and Whitman is speaking at Drew’s Commencement next month.
At times, Kasich seemed more like an inspirational speaker than a politician, despite his 30 years in elected office, which began as a state senator in Ohio. He only mentioned President Donald Trump once and addressed the prospect of running for president again just briefly, by reiterating what he has said previously.
“I don’t know where I’m headed, except I want to keep a voice and I want to be able to speak out,” Kasich said. “I don’t want to get involved with another presidential campaign that’s not winnable.” He added: “I’m open. All my options are on the table. If I can participate somehow in a big way or a smaller way, that’s good.”
The bulk of his talk focused on individual acts of kindness, ranging from a 9-year-old boy in Ohio who told his mom to buy blankets for people in homeless shelters instead of an Xbox game console for him to a shoe shine man in Pittsburgh who became successful enough to donate more than $200,000 in his lifetime.
Kasich also expressed support for the students from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. who survived a mass shooting and are pushing for tighter restrictions on the purchase of guns.
“Do you know how much hatred has been directed at those kids from Parkland?” Kasich said. “All these kids wanted to do is say, ‘Look, we need to have sensible gun laws. We just need to be able to not let this happen to somebody else.’
“And they have experienced a torrent of criticism and hatred. But, you know what? They’re winning. They’re winning. They’ve changed the laws in Florida and they’re going to change the laws around America.”
Ultimately, Kasich reasoned, individuals can make a difference—either through the existing political system or on their own. He made it clear, however, that he isn’t counting on politicians to right society’s wrongs, as he twice quoted a cynical line from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again:” “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
“So, presidents—do they matter? Sure. Governors—do they matter? Sure. But in the experiences that I have had—four years in the legislature, 18 years in Congress, eight years as governor and being around politics for more than 30 years—power does not come from the top down. Power comes from the bottom up,” Kasich said.
“It’s when we get fed up, when we determine that we’ve had enough, when we seek justice or fairness, when we decide that we’re going to live a life a little bigger than ourselves and we are going to make an impact—that’s how it happens.”