Rev. Jesse Jackson on Principles & Values

Civil Rights Activist


OpEd: Rainbow Coalition played transformative role

I had supported Jesse Jackson for president in 1988, and I have always believed that his campaign was enormously important in breaking down barriers and opening up new political space in our country. His concept of the "Rainbow Coalition" played a transformative role in American politics. Frankly Barack Obama would not have been elected president without the groundbreaking work of Jackson's campaigns. Further, not only was Jackson a brilliant and charismatic campaigner, which I saw firsthand when I campaigned with him in Vermont, but he ran a smart, guerrilla-type campaign that did remarkably well given the limited financial resources he had. We got useful advice from some of the veterans who had worked with him, and from time to time I would chat with Reverend Jackson on the phone.
Source: Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders, p. 93-4 , Nov 15, 2016

Led Florida street protests post-2000-election

[Regarding the 36 days] that followed Election Day in 2000, cut through all the clutter and it comes down to this: we insisted that Florida law as it stood on the day of the election be followed to the letter, while the Gore camp tried to overturn Bush's lead by arguing that the law should be ignored.

The Gore people had prepared for this moment, boning up on Florida election law. We had not. For the next few days, our Florida campaign team felt like freedom fighters whose homeland had been occupied as they grappled with a blitzkrieg of lawsuits filed by Gore's attorneys and street protests led by Jesse Jackson.

Federal law required that Florida's election laws in effect on Election Day be followed. If they were, Bush would narrowly win the election. The only way Gore could overturn our victory was to get state and local officials to change the rules after the election had ended and recount votes in precincts where Gore was strong.

Source: Courage and Consequence, by Karl Rove, p.201-204 , Nov 2, 2010

Caught off-mike: Obama "talks down to black people"

If Jackson Sr. really believed there was more than one path to productive black leadership, his comments provided little indication. In July 2008, he was overheard criticizing Obama. The candidate had been "talking down to black people," said Jackson, who also expressed a desire to manually castrate him. He apologized for those remarks.

By now, the tension between Obama and Jackson was commonly understood. In March, "Saturday Night Live" had aired "The Obama Files," an animated segment that showed Obama going to great lengths to escape association with Jackson and Sharpton. While both men were portrayed as eager to help the candidate, they were also depicted as foolish, ignorant, and out of touch.

In Obama's view, real-life comparison to Sharpton and Jackson wasn't appropriate either. Such discussions were untenable "because neither is running for president. They are serving an important role as activists and catalysts but they're not trying to build a coalition to actually govern."

Source: What Obama Means, by Jabari Asim, p.199-200 , Jan 20, 2009

"Run, Jesse, Run" double meaning: campaign, & dodge attacks

"Who's that boy? Harold Washington?" Comedian Eddie Murphy was onstage, and correctly pointed out that DC Mayor Harold Washington's victory was one of the inspirations behind Jesse Jackson's campaign for the presidency. He told the audience he'd seen Jesse in the gym working out. "I seen him running around the track. I said, 'Why you keep getting in shape?'"

Murphy acted out Jackson's "reply" so hilariously that it defies description. Jesse said he has to work out, Murphy explained, because he knew he'd have to make his presidential speeches while ducking and dodging the bullets that would surely be flying in his direction.

Murphy then mimed a would-be white assassin growing frustrated as he tried to center the swift Jackson in his gunsight: "He won't stand still!" In his routine, Murphy revealed how "Run, Jesse, Run!" had acquired more than one meaning.

Source: What Obama Means, by Jabari Asim, p. 72-73 , Jan 20, 2009

1984 Rainbow Coalition: expand corridors of power

Jesse Jackson sensed an opportunity of historic proportions in 1984. In announcing his candidacy for president, he told his listeners that instead of resting on their laurels, blacks should join groups with similar interests in a rainbow coalition designed to expand the nation's corridors of power."You must never forget that about the time we began to take over the cities, Nixon shifted the power to the suburbs," he warned. "Now Reagan has shifted it to the states. So you have mayors who have more and more responsibility and less and less power. We got more and more votes and fewer and fewer services. We cannot stop. We got to rise on higher."

[In the Democratic primaries], he captured 3,282,431 primary votes, 18.2% of the total. It was dress rehearsal for 1988, when Jackson doubled his previous results. He won 6.9 million votes and eleven primary contests and, at one point, was the party's front-runner.

Source: What Obama Means, by Jabari Asim, p. 86-87 , Jan 20, 2009

OpEd: 1984 candidacy forced Dems to openly court black vote

I signed on early to the Mondale campaign for President. The problem for me in 1984, of course, was that Jesse Jackson was making his unconventional, historic bid for the Democratic nomination the same year I was making my debut as an insider on the ground floor of a leading presidential candidate. Of course, I wasn't the only one with a problem. Jackson's run put black pressure on the entire Democratic Party, from within as well as from without. From the inside, it generally forced the party to be much more open in its courting of the black vote--the only constituency that didn't defect to Reagan in 1980. It also made the party much more sensitive to black demands for a bigger voice in Mondale's front running campaign. In that context I was named a Mondale national co-chairman in July of 1984.

Nevertheless, I was still the congressman from Harlem, the capital of black America, in a year when Jesse's run electrified African American communities from coast to coast.

Source: A Bad Day Since, by Charles Rangel, p.220 , Aug 5, 2008

A tree shaker, not a jelly maker

After his 1984 presidential run there definitely was a "Jackson Effect" on African American political involvement nationwide. Everywhere he went he inspired and mobilized a new generation of talented and ambitious folks who seemed to say to themselves: "If he can get up and run for president, and [shook] the Democratic Party to its foundations in the process, surely I, too, can run public office in my hometown."

Jesse Jackson continues to be a constant source of inspiration for African Americans seeking public office. As Jesse himself is fond of saying, he's a tree shaker, not a jelly maker. So it's not necessarily a negative thing to point out that his legacy includes no lasting political organization. Jesse Jackson's political gift is to get people excited, enough to motivate some of them to pick up the ball and organize themselves, often to very great effect.

Source: A Bad Day Since, by Charles Rangel, p.221 , Aug 5, 2008

1988: Won Michigan Democratic caucus

Carl Levin was supposedly so mad that IA & NH had a "lock" on going first that they were going to try to move Michigan up in 2004. But the way the Michigan caucuses have traditionally worked is that whoever has the support of the UAW and the machine wins, which doesn't necessarily prove anything about strength in a general election. In 1988, Jesse Jackson won Michigan, although we were fairly clear that many of his voters weren't registered, and some of them voted twice, since our polling told us that we were ahead among Michigan Democrats by at least 15 points. (Of course, it would have been extremely bad form to point that out.) Having Michigan go first that year would have been nothing but an embarrassment for the party. Nothing against Michigan, but this is the least of the problems.
Source: The Case for Hillary Clinton, by Susan Estrich, p.143 , Oct 17, 2005

Help is on the way to end darkness of 2000 election

In the darkness of 2000, the winners lost and the losers won. In the dark, our nation’s record budget surplus turned into a $500 billion-dollar deficit. In the dark, a net loss of jobs in every state. They ignored the genocide in the Sudan, and induced coup in Haiti.

And yet as the darkness abounds, hope abounds even more. For the 44 million without health care insurance, help is on the way. For parents afraid to call the doctor for their children, because they cannot pay the bills, help is on the way. For our seniors whose Social Security is at risk, who must choose between paying their rent or paying for the soaring costs of their prescription drugs, hold on, help is on the way. Millions of youth today cannot afford tuition and cannot get a job. Every child, red, yellow, brown, black and white, deserves a constitutional right to an equal, high-quality public education. Help is on the way.

Source: Speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 29, 2004

1995: A third party may be needed for progressives

Jackson was not mincing words when, a week after his National Rainbow Coalition meeting in Atlanta, he published an article on June 4, 1995 titled, "A Third Party May Be Needed for Progressives." Jackson was clearly very upset with the Democrats' loss of Congress to the Gingrich forces in the previous elections. "It is not enough," he wrote, "to throw out the conservatives and re-elect traditional Democrats. We need a new direction." He announced that the Rainbow Coalition would explore independent ballot access to run candidates who would stand for a progressive agenda. Citing falling real wages, growing inequality, spreading poverty even for working families, Jackson laid it on the line:

"Why talk about new political options now? Because it is clear that reelecting Democrats to Congress is not enough. We've done that. We registered people and helped bring out the vote. We delivered--and too often we were then ignored. We don't intend to be exploited anymore."

Source: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader, p.250-251 , Oct 14, 2002

Opposed bipartisan conservative majority that ignored him

From his two presidential runs, Jackson knew better than anyone else what it felt like being wooed in the primaries and forgotten in the general election.

A bipartisan majority endorsed the supply-side, trickle-down economics of the early 1980s. The rich got richer and working people got stuck with the bill for massive deficits and S&L bailout. A bipartisan conservative majority blocked efforts to change priorities at the end of the Cold War. A bipartisan conservative majority enforced a trade policy that served Wall Street and multinationals, not Main Street and American voters.

Jackson was thinking like this before the shredding of the federal safety net for the poor, set for 2002, by the phony welfare reform legislation championed by Clinton and especially Gore in 1996.

Source: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader, p.251-252 , Oct 14, 2002

Outlined assets he would bring as Clinton's Vice President

In 1984 and 1988, Jackson had been considered for vice president, only to be passed over both times. Although Jackson commanded a strong following, Clinton had fared well among black voters in the primaries, and none of his senior advisers felt an urgent need to court the controversial reverend.

At the end of the routine address to Jackson's group, Clinton criticized Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition for providing a forum the night before for a black rap singer named Sister Souljah [who praised the L.A. riots]. Jackson had just mentioned approvingly that she had been on the previous day's panel.

Jackson was enraged, telling others he felt personally violated. After the speech, Jackson tried to hand Clinton a long memo outlining the assets he would bring to the Democratic ticket should Clinton choose him as his vice-presidential running mate. Clinton declined. "I'm not going to put you through what Fritz Mondale or Mike Dukakis did," Clinton said.

Source: The Agenda, by Bob Woodward, p. 40-41 , Jun 6, 1994

Apologized for calling NYC “Hymietown”

Jackson’s standing as a moral & humanitarian leader was severely undercut by Jackson’s reference to Jews as “Hymies.” Moreover, his equivocation over the matter and the added comments of Louis Farrakhan served to drag out the issue throughout the entire 1984 presidential campaign.

An article in the Washington Post on Feb. 13, 1984, Rick Atkinson reported Jackson saying, “the most attempts to disrupt this campaign have come from Jewish people.” Toward the end of the article Atkinson states that “In private conversations with reporters, Jackson referred to Jews as ‘Hymie’ and to New York as ‘Hymietown.’ ‘I’m not familiar with that,’ Jackson said. ‘That’s not accurate.’ ”

As the controversy accelerated, Black Muslim minister Farrakhan warned Jews “if you harm this brother, it will be the last one you harm.” From that point on, Jackson had to deal with Farrakhan’s remarks as well as his own.

Jackson eventually condemned Farrakhan’s remarks as “reprehensible and morally indefensible.”

Source: The Search for Common Ground, by Charles Henry, p.102-5 , Jul 2, 1991

Was 1988 frontrunner after winning Michigan primary

In early April 1988, Jesse Jackson appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines. Jackson had convincingly won the Michigan primary two weeks earlier. It was his first primary victory in a northern industrial state and gave him the credibility he had been seeking for five years. He could now be considered a “frontrunner.” Following that primary, Jackson led Dukakis in popular votes and was neck and neck with the Massachusetts governor in delegates. And by winning over a quarter of the white vote, Jackson appeared to have broken through the image of him as the “black presidential candidate.”

With one “electrifying” victory Jackson had destroyed the attempt of some Democrats to recast the party in a non-ideological centrist mode. White Democratic leaders were now forced to “take Jackson seriously.” The question “What does Jesse Jackson want?” became a constant refrain.

Source: The Search for Common Ground, by Charles Henry, p.108-11 , Jul 2, 1991

Politically progressive: responsibility over victimhood

Jackson is neither a conservative nor a liberal, but a “progressive.” He says, “While I know that the victimizers may be responsible for the victims being down, the victims must be responsible for initiating change, determining strategy, tactics, and timing, and being disciplined enough to pull it off. No one has a greater self-interest than the victims in getting up.”

Jackson stresses the necessity of avoiding drugs and taking the moral responsibility for avoiding things like teenage pregnancy.

Source: The Search for Common Ground, by Charles Henry, p. 45 , Jul 2, 1991

Rainbow Coalition: specific groups instead of a melting pot

In the 1984 presidential primary, Jackson attempted to mobilize groups with specific appeals based on the political consciousness of the groups. Minorities and women were appealed to on the basis of their racial and sexual identities, while white males were approached on specific issues such as farm support, or peace.

Jackson is demanding that the Democrats propose a coalition government, not just of interests and regions, but of race-the famous “rainbow coalition” which could remold politics.

Source: The Search for Common Ground, by Charles Henry, p.116-17 , Jul 2, 1991

My religion obligates me to be political

Jackson’s candidacy represents a significant expansion of black church-based leadership into the political arena. Jackson states the dynamism of this tradition: “My religion obligates me to be political, to seek to do God’s will and allow the spiritual word to become concrete justice and dwell among us. Religion should use you politically to do public service. Politics should not misuse religion. When the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, that’s called good religion.“

The religious framework of Jackson’s political vision is crucial to Jackson’s overwhelming support in the black community, while limiting his appeal to white voters. Many have focused on the limitations of Jackson’s appeal to this core black constituency while ignoring the remarkable unification of black support around Jackson in 1984 and 1988.

Source: The Search for Common Ground, by Charles Henry, p. 37 , Jul 2, 1991

Choose the human race over the nuclear race

This is not a perfect party. We are not a perfect people. Yet, we are called to a perfect mission: our mission to feed the hungry; to clothe the naked; to house the homeless; to teach the illiterate; to provide jobs for the jobless; and to choose the human race over the nuclear race. We are gathered here this week to nominate a candidate and adopt a platform which will expand, unify, direct and inspire our Party and the Nation to fulfill this mission.

My constituency is the desperate, the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the despised. They are restless and seek relief. They’ve voted in record numbers. They have invested faith, hope and trust that they have in us. The Democratic Party must send them a signal that we care. I pledge my best to not let them down.

There is the call of conscience, redemption, expansion, healing and unity. Leadership must heed the call of conscience, redemption, expansion, healing and unity, for they are the key to achieving our mission.

Source: Address to the Democratic Convention , Jul 17, 1984

Rainbow coalition: Don’t leave anybody out

Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is a rainbow - red, yellow, brown, black and white - and we’re all precious in God’s sight. We must heal and expand. The Rainbow Coalition is making room for Arab Americans. They, too, know the pain and hurt of racial and religious rejection. They must not continue to be made pariahs. The Rainbow is making room for the Native American, the most exploited people of all, a people with the greatest moral claim amongst us. We support them as they seek the restoration of their ancient land and claim amongst us. The Rainbow includes disabled veterans. The disabled have their handicap revealed and their genius concealed; while the able-bodied have their genius revealed and their disability concealed. But ultimately, we must judge people by their values and their contribution. Don’t leave anybody out. The Rainbow includes lesbians and gays. No American citizen ought to be denied equal protection from the law.
Source: Address to the Democratic Convention , Jul 17, 1984

America is a patchwork quilt, not all the same texture

America is not like a blanket - one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt - many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay and the disabled make up the American quilt.
Source: Address to the Democratic Convention , Jul 17, 1984

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Page last updated: Sep 09, 2018