The Rev. Jesse Jackson has
been at the forefront of the civil rights movement for four decades. He
is founder and leader of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a Democratic Party
activist, and a recipient of the Medal of Freedom.
Jackson, who was in the Valley last week for a fund-raiser to benefit people with HIV/AIDS, met with The Republic's Editorial Board on Friday. Here are excerpts from that meeting:
On the Iraq War:
This war has no moral or legal foundation. (It's) built upon misrepresentations, violations of international law. We were driven by fear to make a decision that if we don't move and move quickly . . . Saddam is coming. Imminent threat. WMD. Al-Qaida connection. None of that was true. . . . We made that dash almost unilaterally. And while we celebrate voting (in Iraq) two weeks ago, a democracy by gunpoint, protected by bombs, is not a democracy at all.
On President Bush's relations with civil rights leaders:
In so many ways, the extremism coming out of the White House is quite polarizing, class polarization, racial polarization. The nation, in many ways, would have been better off if (John) McCain had (won) that primary (in 2000) because of some sense of a broader view of America. A big-tent America is the best America.
On "Black/Brown issues":
African-Americans and Hispanics have the same basic challenges: high infant mortality, lack of equal protection under the law, high school dropout and putout rates, less access to college, less wages, less access to capital, shorter life expectancy, more likely to end up in the military as a life option. Our conditions are so much the same. So they have to keep (building) a coalition based on our shared interests.
Even people who don't get along still live under the same rubric. While the Hispanics in the cities are fighting for bilingual education and fight for fair and humane immigration policy, a legitimate civil rights struggle, Blacks in the cities are fighting different barriers.
But we both need our right to vote protected, and right now the right to vote protected is in jeopardy . . . (because) in 2007, the Voting Rights Act provisions of enforcement is up for review. President Bush has not given a public commitment defending it on the enforcement. And that is because the forces we defeated in (1965) changed parties but not ideology. They do not want it extended with enforcement provisions.
On class gaps:
We have an economic crisis. The top 10 percent are fighting to have a permanent tax cut but will not raise the minimum wage for working poor people. As they fight to give the kind of rich . . . perspective of life, top down not bottom up. . . . The wealthiest get tax cuts. The middle class gets job cuts. The poor get benefit cuts. . . .
There's a veneer of happiness in the country that is not real, because happiness and record mortgage foreclosures are not compatible. Happiness and net loss of jobs in every state is not compatible.
On Proposition 200-like initiatives:
We can't have it both ways. As long as we share 2,000 miles of border with Mexico, the biggest stretch between a rich and poor country, people are going to gravitate to the side where the grass is greener. That's just going to happen. We actually encourage (illegal immigration). We work undocumented workers and they pay taxes. And then we deny them benefits. It's a very tough call we have to make.
In California, the more they crack down, as the farm workers seek to organize them into a union, there's a kick-them-out plan. But as you kick the group out that's trying to organize workers, you bring in guest workers. You want those who come who are undocumented and are too afraid to organize into collective-bargaining units. What source of exploited workers do you want?
On whether the infrastructure of the civil rights movement needs to change:
Our mission is a timeless one. It's not subject to fad. Equal protection under the law, equal opportunity, equal access, an even playing field.
There have been a lot of gestures lately. Faith initiatives. We've always had faith initiatives. The abolition movement was a faith initiative. It wasn't government-funded, but it was a faith initiative. . . .
But I remind you, if we live in our faith, whatever it may be, we live on the law. And that's historically where civil rights leaders have taken us. Whatever your faith may be or may not be, we got the 13th Amendment passed for all of us on the same day, for the infidel and the saved. The (1954) Supreme Court decision ended 335 years of official, legal race supremacy. We got the right to vote August 6, 1965, 40 years ago. The need to protect that vote is not subject to age, style or fad. It's basic kinds of stuff. Some things are not changed.
But there's an attempt to diminish civil rights leadership by trying to impose upon it a leadership that does not have any roots. People who can be appointed by the president can be admired but not followed.
On the Democratic Party's relevance to voters:
There are several angles on that. One, we must stop the fraud that determined the outcome in Florida and Ohio. . . .
Second, (John) Kerry running a 17-state campaign rather than a 50-state campaign was a fundamental error. . . . You can't write off the South as a region, a region characterized by working poverty inflamed by fear, whether it's military fear or whether it's cultural insecurities and racial affinity fears. People vote en masse for their state's rights. And so when (Howard) Dean said we must go back to the South again and try to deal with people's real needs and not just their cultural insecurities, he's right about that.
The third thing is to keep espousing the economic interests of the workers and the working poor. We're still exporting jobs, exporting capital and importing cheap labor and cheap products, and it's undermining our workforce.