June 25, 2004
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Oh, my, my, my, how some white folk love to hate Jesse Jackson.
He's the black Hillary Clinton to them. A non-white male who happens to be smarter than most of them and isn't intimidated. Not to mention that he knows how to handle the media.
All in all, that makes him a dangerous man to white males. Because if the Bush administration has taught us anything, it has taught us that modern-day Neo-Confederacy Republicanism is all about white male entitlement. The real reason that the majority of white males support Bush is that they figure that if you can be as dimwitted, feeble, ineffective, bumbling, and inarticulate as Bush and still be president, then there's hope for any white male.
Bush really represents the "God-given" patriarchal entitlement program for white males. As in the ante-bellum, slave-owning south, being a white male from a plantation-owning family entitled you to inherit wealth and power, even if you were running on one watt of brain cells.
So along came Rev. Jesse Jackson, literally picking up the mantle of Dr. Martin Luther King, two men of God with smarts and a commitment to equality and democracy. That's heretical thinking as far as the Neo-Confederacy GOP, which has its roots in the merger of Nixon's southern strategy and George Wallace's campaign of blue collar bigotry.
Is Rev. Jesse Jackson perfect? Has he said some things he might regret? No and Yes. But, so what. Put in any human beings name and the answer to the two questions is still no and yes.
Let's face it, Rev. Jackson has too often literally been the "whipping boy" of the displaced white male (who ironically, whines about being a victim of equality) trying to restore the glory days of a society where the white male was king of his castle or master of his plantation. If Rev. Jackson were a Republican (let's just dismiss the impossibility here on philosophical reasons alone), he'd probably be using Dick Cheney for a hand puppet.
He's a smart black man who knows how to use the media. Gee, if you are a white politician, they call that talent. With a black man, they call it opportunism. Hillary knows what it's like to be branded all sorts of nasty things just for being a woman and being smart and expressing your opinions. She and Rev. Jackson probably have a lot to talk about.
But, enough of the BuzzFlash reflection of the day, Jackson has an Operation Rainbow/PUSH Conference coming up. And he's just made a trailblazing trip to Appalachia to try, as he always has, to find common ground among poor and working class Americans of all backgrounds.
Why should he apologize? Because he's trying to improve the lot of working and poor Americans?
No apologies needed, Rev. Jackson, none at all.
Keep up the great work.
If you were a white guy, you would probably have been president by now.
* * *
BuzzFlash: Tell us about the 2004 Rainbow/PUSH conference? The theme is "2004: A Year of Critical Choices for Inclusion and Growth."
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: We are very excited about our conference and we will be setting the tone for what happens in Boston at the convention and in November as well. America faces some critical choices ahead.
We have an incredible list of speakers. Let me just list some of them for you. We have former president and current author Bill Clinton, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, entertainer/educator Bill Cosby, former presidential candidate and Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, Chicago Stock Exchange Chairman Valerie Jarrett; Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democratic senatorial candidate Barack Obama and Starbucks Chairman and Chief Global Strategist Howard Schultz who are scheduled to attend the 33rd Annual Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Citizenship Education Fund Conference, from June 26 - July 1, 2004, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.
We want to encourage people to come to this important conference, and they can go to our Web site to find out all the information they need.
BuzzFlash: Earlier this month, you went on a tour in Appalachia to speak with working families to encourage them to start voting in their own self-interest. You asked people to not be duped by the Republicans and to support a political party that will create jobs, rebuild America, and start helping middle class families afford healthcare and college tuition instead of giving tax breaks to the rich. Tell us what you hoped to accomplish and if you felt you met your objective.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: The intent of the Appalachian tour was to build a coalition among working poor people. I convinced them to vote their interest over their fears. The focus was on tax cuts for the wealthy, our war in Iraq, jobs being shipped overseas Ė and how all these issues affect working families. Working poor people cannot put on big fundraisers. The working poor do not attract cameras. In this part of the country, when their children graduate from high school, it is difficult for them to afford to go to college. Jobs are harder and harder to come by so they go to the military and thus become your Jessica Lynches and they come out of Appalachia and other poor communities disproportionately to the rest of the country.
For example, in those hills, and West Virginia, and Southern, Southeastern Kentucky, Ohio area, those making minimum wage are at 65% the poverty level, so theyíre working poor. Most of the people are not on welfare. They work every day. A coal miner still dies every six hours from black lung disease. When you speak to and focus on the working poor, you begin to rebuild the heart strength and the soul of America again. We need to reinvest in America, put America back to work, and revive the great American promise.
BuzzFlash: It seems that youíre trying to unify the country by having a dialogue with various groups that, at first glance, some people might believe are in opposition to one another. And youíre talking, as you say, to poor, rural, often times white men and educating them that Bushís policies are hurting them just as much if not more than other demographics in the country, despite the fact that most consider them the GOP base.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: Itís interesting that these are mostly white coal miners but they have received me so well. I was meeting and and staying with a different coal mining family every night. But in spite of all of their deprivation Ė by the way, 30 steel mills have closed -- they still have the power to vote their interest and not their fears and decide the next president. They have the power to determine the next Senate. A small number of votes in that region determine everything. And so it is an attempt to convince even the working poor to not surrender and to vote their interest and not their fears. The last time, Bush and Cheney campaigned in 2000, they were wolves in sheepís clothing to the people of Appalachia. For example, Bush and Cheney campaigned on guns. Well, the people in Appalachia still got their guns but they donít have jobs and they donít have healthcare.
BuzzFlash: During part of your tour, the Charleston Gazette put it best in regard to working families who voted for Bush in 2000: "In return for the votes of West Virginia, the state got record unemployment, cuts to services for veterans, the elderly, kids and lower income people, tax giveaways to the wealthiest, and an unnecessary war that is eating up the lives of many of the stateís young men and women."
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: Indeed. I think that they now recognize that they were taken on an emotional roller coaster, and now they want jobs and healthcare. I hope that John Kerry will demand that one of the presidential debates be held in Appalachia. Letís take the cameras to the working poor and then talk about George W. Bushís policies.
BuzzFlash: How do you go about speaking to people throughout the country, such as Appalachia, and talk to them about these important issues without coming off as an "out of towner," an elitist, or just that youíre telling other people "youíve been duped by this Administration." How do you open that dialogue?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: Well my background has been sticking up for and working for poor people. I have been with them over the years. I was with coal miners during their strikes and when they were put out of business. Iíve been in the coal mines with them. Iíve spoken in their schools. I stayed in their homes. I listen to their music. I do not come there as an outsider who speaks in a different language. I understand and appreciate their culture and the human needs in the region.
BuzzFlash: How do you think that, in a broad sense, progressives should go about debunking the myth of compassionate conservatism thatís been branded by the Administration?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: Well, thatís the art of deception. Bush was trying to be open to a broad spectrum of voters, even more than President Reagan was. Thatís what he was trying to say. Bush was saying I will not be like Reagan who called people welfare queens and what have you. Bush said I will not be like that -- Iíll be a compassionate conservative. The fact is President Bush has shunned organized labor, civil rights organizations like the NAACP, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Leadership Council of Civil Rights, the National Organization for Women. He has not had one meeting with these groups and about their concerns these past three years.
BuzzFlash: Why do you think that it is such a stretch for so many Democratic candidates Ė including John Kerry Ė to talk about taking back America and defining a bold vision such as creating jobs with livable wages or having universal healthcare. Although itís mentioned in speeches, many candidates somehow lack a cohesive unifying vision for America. But there are so many people calling for it. I read the stack of press clips when you went to Appalachia -- people were flocking to see you. Why is this such a big step for so many candidates to make?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: I think there is this theory of their handlers which is the 30, 40, 30 rule. There are 30% of voters on the right. There are 30% of voters on the left. And 40% in between, all right? The fact is we should be increasing the number of voters on the rolls. We extended the base of activists and registered voters during our tour. We can make that case of broadening the front. About half of Americans donít vote for President in the first place. These are people who do not believe anything will change for them regardless who wins. We need to start talking about issues that matter such as reinvesting in America Ė building American from the bottom-up, not from the top down. It has to be about affordable housing. It has to be about a way to get out of Iraq, not a plan to get us in deeper.
BuzzFlash: If Kerry wins, the fight for economic justice wonít end. We have a long way to go. What are your thoughts as to how progressives can build and sustain a viable movement to fight for working-class values, universal healthcare, living wages, access to education, election reform, the environment over the long haul?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: I think we should never forget or sacrifice our right to mass action to affect public opinion. The changes that Iím talking about wonít be discussed on TV shows. We need to go to where the people are -- go to Appalachia, go where these families work and live. Not just give our opinion in a sound bite which is what talking heads do. We need to make the case to the people weíre trying to affect, face to face, sitting across their breakfast table, visiting with them in their homes.
BuzzFlash: What do you think is the most significant progressive issue to implement? Do you think itís universal healthcare?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: Without a doubt it is to reinvest in America. If you reinvest Americaís infrastructure Ė build roads and bridges and sewers and houses, remove asbestos, remove lead paint, you put people back to work. And that would have a significant impact. Private capital follows public investment. When Americans have jobs they can purchase automobiles, send their children to school, and we can rebuild our communities again. The way to do that is to reinvest in our infrastructure.
BuzzFlash: Weíve conducted several interviews with Greg Palast and his investigative reporting about what happened in Florida during the 2000 election. And thereís no doubt that the Republican Party stole the election, but also disenfranchised large numbers Ė tens of thousands in Florida, and millions nationally -- of African American voters and other minorities from casting their vote. As a civil rights leader, whatís your response to the theft of the 2000 election and what do you think can be done to prevent it from happening in 2004?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: I was appalled that Republicans were so bold to steal the election, and astounded at the silence of Democrats. When a political party gives up its right to fight, itís not a good thing. We now know that they started disenfranchising voters before the election started. They planned to suppress the vote. And even now, weíre trying to make public the names of those removed from the voting rolls because last time, a lot of people were removed from rolls who had never been arrested, and some were arrested but never been convicted. So thatís a plan to suppress the voting population and weíre not going to let it happen again.
BuzzFlash: Our position is that if Democrats win in 2004, we have to win big. It canít be close because if itís close, we can expect more dirty tricks. But if itís a landslide the election will be harder to steal again.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: And thatís why black votes count now more than ever. And these TV ad campaigns donít target unregistered voters that are unmotivated. TV ads donít bring in unregistered, unmotivated Americans. But these voters can decide the fate of this election. People talk a lot about how small the final count was for Bush, but there were tens of thousands of people who werenít even registered to vote who should have, and we should be talking to them.
BuzzFlash: How do you think inequality manifests itself in America today? Some try to say that race has been supplanted with class as the prevailing inequality. And others feel weíre still fighting the civil rights issue, but itís more cryptic, itís more systemic. What are your thoughts?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: In South Carolina for example, itís 30%
black, but prisons are 80% black. There are 32 state prisons, and only
one state college for blacks. The prison industry is clearly the largest
industry in the state.
BuzzFlash: Rev. Jackson, thank you so much for your time.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW