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Rev. Jesse Jackson Rouses GR Citizens

August 26, 2010

The Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke to a standing room only crowd at Grand Rapids’ New Life Church of God in Christ yesterday, as part of the Rainbow Push Coalition Jobs, Peace and Justice Tour. He began his speech by inviting the audience to join him for this Saturday’s march on Detroit.

Jackson referenced Martin Luther King’s march for freedom, jobs and justice as he began his remarks. “Here we are 47 years later marching together for jobs, justice and freedom,” he said. “Today we are all free but we are not all equal. The quest is to put America back to work, to even the playing field.”

Using a biblical allegory of building a wall, Jackson explained that the city-to-city tour’s intent is to build the Rainbow Push Coalition in Michigan by connecting people from across the state. The Jobs, Peace and Justice Tour includes stops in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, East Lansing. Flint and Ann Arbor.  “We came (here) in ’63. We were down but moving up. Today we are up but moving down.”

Jackson summarized the gains made by African Americans since the 60s as Jim Crow practices, such as denying service at restaurants and hotels, were made illegal and voting rights were extended to African Americans, 18- to 21- year-olds and college students living away from their hometowns. He said that had not reforms been made to the way delegates voted in presidential elections, Hillary Clinton would have taken the Democratic nomination in 2008 instead of Barack Obama. Referring to the 1984 presidential elections, he stated, “We found out during that season that our popular vote was much bigger than our delegate vote. We marched to ‘democracize’ democracy.”

Jackson went on to say that in spite of those “fundamental shifts,” things are not right in the US. “Native Americans cannot get three meals a day because they are food insecure―but we have food stored in warehouses. Americans cannot get a house. Millions work without health insurance. Most poor people are not on welfare. They work every day. They catch the early bus. They raise other peoples’ children. They drive cabs  . . . They work in fast food restaurants . . . They work  . . . cleaning bed pans but when they get sick they cannot get healthcare.”

Jackson said that even though we see people of color in The White House and legislatures, he sees plants closing and jobs leaving every city he visits. “We cannot compete with China’s labor; we cannot compete with slave labor. When they close your plant and take your job and give you that pink slip, turn the lights out and lock the gates, the issue is not black and white, it is dark and light. We need to turn the lights back on for the American worker.”

Jackson referred to the 2008 Olympics in China saying that Americans won medals along with contenders from other countries because the playing field was even. In today’s globalized economy, the playing field for labor is not even. “We have globalized capital without globalizing human rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights and children’s rights.”

He went on to blast the Wall Street bankers and bailouts; predatory lending practices that charge higher interest rates to people in need; and cuts to human services, education and mass transit. “Here we are today fighting two wars. . . . we’re building roads, bridges, schools, houses and hospitals in Afghanistan. We need the same thing in America . . . use the same plan for Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit and put us back to work.”

At this point, Jackson referenced the “American Dream” and shifted his emphasis from systemic issues to personal responsibility and faith. His powerful oratory energized the crowd to echo his admonishments to parents of schoolchildren. “Six things. One, you get up first. I may not be able to read or write or calculate, but I can take my child to school. Two, meet your child’s teachers. Teachers teach children differently when they know their parents . . . Three, exchange phone numbers. Then the teachers will call you, not the police. Four, turn off the TV. Five, pick up your child’s report card. Six, take your child to worship on the weekend . . . teach your child to read and write. Teach your child to pray.”

Jesse Jackson was able to lay out his excellent analysis of the US economy, continued racism and classism and the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq with words that brought the message home to his audience. However, he failed to address the failures of a two-party neo-capitalist system that serves the interests of power and money. “Democracizing” democracy will take more than succeeding at school, working hard at our jobs, voting in elections and trusting in God. Historically, change has been seized in streets, not in the voting booth. Let’s hope Saturday’s march on Detroit takes steps in that direction.

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