Rev. Jesse L. Jackson (Photo by Jasmyne Cannick)
After spending decades fighting for social and economic justice, Rev. Jackson is uniquely qualified to speak out on the state of the nation’s economy.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and over the past 40 years, he has played a significant role in the advancement of civil and human rights for all Americans, including economic and social justice for all, and he is internationally known as one of America’s foremost religious and political figures. Under his direction RPC has a progressive agenda and Rev. Jackson has the unique ability for bringing people together transcending race, culture, class, gender and religious beliefs. In addition, the inroads Rev. Jackson (and others) made during his two presidential campaigns strategically pioneered the way for the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.
In speaking to Rev. Jackson about the nation’s current economic conditions and high employment, his words reverberated as he referenced the historic impact of the Civil Rights movement via the words and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referring to Dr. King’s book, “Why We Can’t Wait.”
“This July 16th was 50 years since I first went to jail,” the Reverend said, “Back then we were essentially pulling down walls and tearing down the culture (of segregation).” In reflecting back in history he continued, “1963 was another huge year of the intensity of our sense of outrage … the year of the bombing of the church in Birmingham … Medgar Evers was killed and the March on Washington. There was real fierce fighting that year.
“I remember I was jailed in Greensboro that year, accused of inciting a riot; I left jail and went to Washington,” he went on. The day we went to Washington … when we think of Washington, we think of the ‘I-Have-a-Dream Speech'” Fannie Lou Hamer couldn’t make the March; she was in jail in Mississippi. James Foreman of CORE couldn’t make the March; he was in jail back in Louisiana.” The day Dr. King gave the I-Have-A-Dream speech, in many of the Middle-eastern and Southern states, people of color could not use a public hotel, motel, park, nor library.
Listening to Rev. Jackson recall history that he witnessed, in vivid and graphic details, was a teachable moment. “So the season of outrage and rebellion made the March the place where we had the climax of that phase of our struggle. Moving into 1964, all that season, we were fighting to ratify somewhat the 1954 decision (Brown v Board of Education) to end legal segregation… the state’s rights and jim crow. So we kept battling; we had the right to vote but schemes like gerrymandering, annexation and poll taxes limit the impact of our vote.”(Gerrymandering is a form of redistricting in which electoral district or constituency boundaries are deliberately modified for electoral purposes. It may be used to achieve desired electoral results for a particular party, group or may be used to help or hinder a particular group of constituents, such as a political, racial, linguistic, religious or class group. It was used skillfully to deny Black people equal voting rights.)
“When I first ran in 1984, there were two major impediments: one was a high threshold,” Rev. Jackson said, which was a winner-takes-all process and “in 2008, because we won proportionality, we democratize the democracy.” In referring to the recent presidential primaries he said, “Hilary Clinton barely won California, she barely won Texas… Ohio, Pennsylvania…under the old system of winner-takes-all–the system the Republicans are using right now, she would’ve been the winner. But because of proportionality, we brought down the barriers and make it easier to share delegates and become a delegate. And because of 50 years of successful work, we now have a president of our choice.”
Fast forwarding to the present, Rev. Jackson commented on the similarity of the war throughout the 1960s, how Dr. King described its impact on the conditions in society then, and the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, how they are destroying the country in many ways: economically, socially, morally and spiritually. He said, “It’s the same. We bail out the banks without linkage to the investment of lending. So Wall Street is rejoicing and foreclosure is devastating the poor and the middle class; there are 4 million homes in foreclosure this year.”
Seeking guidance Rev. Jackson continued as he perused through “Why We Can’t Wait?” On the inside back cover of the book, it ends with references to two chapters: the first is Dr. King’s famous letter from Birmingham jail and ‘the other vital chapter is the concluding one (the last chapter of the book), in which the political implications, for an election year especially, are forcefully set forth in terms that must be carefully pondered by all who seek public office. These two messages stand out even above the other excellences of this book, and will be quoted for a long, long time–the one an unforgettable, impassioned cry from the heart of a good man, the other, with its implicit warning, the cold logic of a brilliant mind.’