Jackson still in vanguard of social justice

This has been a rough couple of months for Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson Sr. He became the focus of intense criticism, from within his own community, after he was caught on an open mike in a FOX-TV studio saying he wanted to geld presumptive Democratic preside

This has been a rough couple of months for Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson Sr.

He became the focus of intense criticism, from within his own community, after he was caught on an open mike in a FOX-TV studio saying he wanted to geld presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

He also used the “N-word” to describe those Black people who were listening to Obama.

The rebukes came not just from the community. They came from his own progeny, as Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-2nd, part of Obama’s inner circle, came out and castigated his father.

Jackson quickly apologized (and Obama quickly accepted), but he admitted he had to take some time off and take a spiritual inventory.

Jackson was pilloried and cast as the jealous elder statesman who was bitter at being upstaged by the “new” leadership. That perception caused him pain, but perhaps even more troubling was the widely distributed opinion that Jackson, and his style of leadership, was no longer relevant.

“Service is always needed and is always relevant,” Jackson said in an interview with the Defender. “There are still many areas where service is needed. There are 14 million Blacks registered to vote. About 5.5 million voted in the primary election. That means that 8 million Black voters didn’t vote but are cheering on the sidelines. Clearly, voter registration cries out to all of us to serve. That is relevant. Measure relevancy by service.”

“We still have abounding poverty in this nation,” said Jackson. “In Chicago Public Schools, 85 percent of the children are on the free lunch program, which means that 85 percent of the families are under the poverty level. We have all of these schools that are overcrowded, with not enough books for the students and whose graduation rates are substantially less than those of the suburbs. That’s an area of service.”

Jackson added that the Harold Ickes housing project is two-thirds empty, and the residents are being constantly harassed by the police, and people are being moved out to other overcrowded schools or suburban schools.

“In the meantime, the Chicago Teacher’s Academy school, right next door, a school is really built for the new south loop community, not the people from Ickes.

Jackson would clearly like to move beyond the open microphone incident.

“When you make mistakes, you repent, you are contrite. It was a painful moment, and yet leaders have to keep leading despite their mistakes.

“That’s behind us now,” he said. “It was a point of great pain and embarrassment. We have bigger challenges before us. We’ll be working together, covering (Obama’s) back when the Republicans come after him.”

While Jackson has no formal role in the campaign and had no formal role in the Democratic National Convention, his son was a featured speaker.

But that doesn’t mean that Rev. Jackson isn’t looking for something from Obama in his presidential nomination acceptance speech. Jackson said that when Obama steps on that platform on Thursday night, it should be hail to the Defender, hail to all of those people and institutions that fought the fight to bring him to that point.

“We had to fight for our civil rights,” he said. “On the one hand, we fought against the Democrats, against George Wallace, and we won that fight. It took us hundreds of years, but we changed the law and made race supremacy illegal. It took us another 43 years from Selma, but we won that battle.

“The marchers and martyrs must be hailed that night,” said Jackson. “It took litigation, legislation and demonstration. That is why I always keep reciting this history. This is the bloodless stage of our struggle. No more loss of jobs if you register to vote. We are now beyond the bloody and terror stages.”

Jackson doesn’t see his son’s ascendance and Obama being poised to become the first Black presidential nominee as evidence of “new” Black leadership replacing the old.

“I’m not convinced of that,” Jackson said. “It is not youth versus age. You have to have Dr. Martin Luther King and A. Philip Randolph, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. I think it is quite a media exaggeration. There are more people fighting for civil rights now. Every state has someone in a position fighting for Equal Employment Opportunity.”

Jackson acknowledges that there are “new” voices, but he said there is no rift, no competition.

“There is a new phenomenon, of Black talk show hosts, plus Internet, new tools and new voices,” he said. “That dynamic demands a lot of hands on the plow.”

“Leadership must be long-distance runners,” said Jackson. “From that time as a youth NAACP leader, I’ve never stopped on this long distance journey. It is a life’s work, a life’s journey.”

And, he said, this next stage of the civil rights struggle may require some new thinking and new tactics.

“As we moved up politically, the economy slid out from under our feet,” said Jackson, noting all of the Black elected officials around the country.

“Our challenge now today goes beyond traditional civil rights strategy. We need a new civil rights policy, one that deals with the dynamic that hits our community when jobs go out, plants close, drugs in, guns in, where we have first class jails and second class schools,” Jackson said.

The crisis is beyond implementing policies,” he continued. “We have a structural inequality, in cities like Detroit, New York, Chicago, where you have 40 percent Black male unemployment. The ghetto itself is a subprime market. The housing crisis hit our communities especially hard. We have a foreclosure crisis because banks were not properly regulated.”

And Jackson disputed the notion that an Obama presidency will signal that there is no longer a need for affirmative action.

“Barack and Michelle are products of affirmative action,” he said. “They prove its value. Affirmative action is the law. The president must have an attorney general who supports the law. And affirmative action should not be seen as a Black issue. We have to dispel the white fear that affirmative action will take their jobs when it is our nation’s trade policies that took those jobs,” he said.

“As long as you have patterns of discrimination in access to schools, jobs, capital, you need that law.”

And Jackson has no plans to move off the stage. He is 66, but he believes he has much more work to do, much more service to perform.

“Age and health accept some people differently,” said Jackson. “Both (Ronald) Reagan and (Nelson) Mandela were older than I am when they became president,” he said. “I plan on spending a lot of time on training more leaders–like (Rev. James) Meeks, (Al) Sharpton, Judge (Greg) Mathis. I will be spending a lot of time mentoring other leaders, like Jesse Jr., Harold Ford. A war on poverty must be revived. We have to deal with the hungry in Haiti and in Mauritania. We have to focus our attention on ending this war in Iraq, and use that money to invest in our infrastructure, in educating our children.”

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