Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thanks for a Great Semester

Thanks for a good discussion today. It is great to see such enthusiasm for ideas on the last day of the semester.

As you may know this was the first time I have taught this class. For me, that was the exciting part. I am anxious to see your comments and suggestions on the evaluation sheets for how I can improve this course. You all seemed very engaged and I got some great feedback from you during the semester.

Nommo is real. Be careful of its power when you speak randomly and without sufficient forethought. But, make sure to use it, speak the world you want, tell others about it, get them to talk about it, and you will be amazed at the creative properties of this process.

Thank you again and I hope to see you in a future class of mine.

Obama, Black Nationalism and Dreaming Blackness

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle...Image via Wikipedia


“Black power? A note about Black Nationalism, Barack Obama, and the future of black politics”

Notes by Alfred Snider

2008 presidential election is a watershed for America; a descendant of Africa has been elected president of the nation. Whether this progress is symbolic or substantive remains to be seen.

1.     It is hard for black nationalism to thrive in an era of such racial mainstream success.
2.     Conflict between group politics and deracialized campaigns.
3.     The employment of black blame
4.     Political constraints coming from the protest/protection impulse.

96% of African Americans voted for Obama.

Makes it difficult for black nationalism

Black nationalism thrives when there is continued marginalization by white power structure. Of course, one man in one office does not end marginalization, and black activists will need to work harder to keep the nationalist agenda alive.

Many say Obama’s race for the White House was race transcendent. He:
§  Avoided the use of civil right tropes
§  Got whites to vote for him because he focused on issues important to them, not just issues important to African Americans. Many successful black politicians now do this, like Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.
§  Never denies his African heritage and accepts that he is an African American, but tries to convince the public that this does not matter.
§  Race as an important issue was not featured in the campaign except for his speech about Jeremiah Wright.
§  Wright was a hangover from the previous era, not the new reality of race in America, where we can move beyond that (supposedly).  This same anger hangover exists in many whites.
§  Merged class and race issues, which of course undermines the importance of why blacks were discriminated against vs. why underclass whites are discriminated against.

In her survey of African Americans, they gave two sources of blame for racial injustices:
1.     Black blame: mistakes by the members of the community itself
2.     System blame: the system is rigged against African Americans.

Black blame can be a problem when used by Black politicians:
§  Characterization of black poor as “pathological” something is wrong with them. This, when done by Obama, carries this harmful message of irresponsibility and lends credibility to the charge.
§  Example of getting children to eat: p. 177
§  Black audience loved it.
§  Part of a long tradition of black criticism and uplift efforts.
§  Survey participants did not use black blame for distancing from other blacks.
Black blame outside the black community is different:
§  It shows that these black politicians are not “in the pocket” of the black community, which whites find comforting.
§  American tradition: when you get into office, your group will benefit.
§  Because white voters fear that, black politicians who use black blame show their ability to evaluate members of their own group using prevailing social norms, but special affiliations.
§  Any black politician who explains racial inequality using any other narrative than the need for hard work is seen as making excuses for black failure.

The protest/protection impulse.

There is an impulse to protect those members of the black community who have reached considerable academic, financial or athletic success.
Yet, this need to protect someone like Obama can undermine the need to deal with problems that still face the black community.
They may refrain from making protest demands that would call for the upheaval of a status quo that has made him the president.
Rev Wright incident was an example of this. They were angry at an attack on their most cherished institution, the black church, but did not want the incident to hurt Obama’s candidacy.
This was seen in very negative feedback given to those black voices that criticize Obama.
Perhaps in the White House he will be even more difficult for blacks to criticize.

Perhaps a black president is less able to engineer reform of a racist system than a white president?
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tea Party - A Lesson in White Privilege


What If the Tea Party Were Black?

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters descended on DC armed with AK-47s. Would they be defended as patriotic Americans? 

Photo Credit: Street Protest TV

Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure - the ones who are driving the action - we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.
So let’s begin.
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.
Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.
Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.
Imagine that a prominent mainstream black political commentator had long employed an overt bigot as Executive Director of his organization, and that this bigot regularly participated in black separatist conferences, and once assaulted a white person while calling them by a racial slur. When that prominent black commentator and his sister — who also works for the organization — defended the bigot as a good guy who was misunderstood and “going through a tough time in his life” would anyone accept their excuse-making? Would that commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? Because that’s what happened in the real world, when Pat Buchanan employed as Executive Director of his group, America’s Cause, a blatant racist who did all these things, or at least their white equivalents: attending white separatist conferences and attacking a black woman while calling her the n-word.
Imagine that a black radio host were to suggest that the only way to get promoted in the administration of a white president is by “hating black people,” or that a prominent white person had only endorsed a white presidential candidate as an act of racial bonding, or blamed a white president for a fight on a school bus in which a black kid was jumped by two white kids, or said that he wouldn’t want to kill all conservatives, but rather, would like to leave just enough—“living fossils” as he called them—“so we will never forget what these people stood for.” After all, these are things that Rush Limbaugh has said, about Barack Obama’s administration, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, a fight on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois in which two black kids beat up a white kid, and about liberals, generally.
Imagine that a black pastor, formerly a member of the U.S. military, were to declare, as part of his opposition to a white president’s policies, that he was ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” This is, after all, what Pastor Stan Craig said recently at a Tea Party rally in Greenville, South Carolina.
Imagine a black radio talk show host gleefully predicting a revolution by people of color if the government continues to be dominated by the rich white men who have been “destroying” the country, or if said radio personality were to call Christians or Jews non-humans, or say that when it came to conservatives, the best solution would be to “hang ‘em high.” And what would happen to any congressional representative who praised that commentator for “speaking common sense” and likened his hate talk to “American values?” After all, those are among the things said by radio host and best-selling author Michael Savage, predicting white revolution in the face of multiculturalism, or said by Savage about Muslims and liberals, respectively. And it was Congressman Culbertson, from Texas, who praised Savage in that way, despite his hateful rhetoric.
Imagine a black political commentator suggesting that the only thing the guy who flew his plane into the Austin, Texas IRS building did wrong was not blowing up Fox News instead. This is, after all, what Anne Coulter said about Tim McVeigh, when she noted that his only mistake was not blowing up the New York Times.
Imagine that a popular black liberal website posted comments about the daughter of a white president, calling her “typical redneck trash,” or a “whore” whose mother entertains her by “making monkey sounds.” After all that’s comparable to what conservatives posted about Malia Obama on last year, when they referred to her as “ghetto trash.”
Imagine that black protesters at a large political rally were walking around with signs calling for the lynching of their congressional enemies. Because that’s what white conservatives did last year, in reference to Democratic party leaders in Congress.
In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?
To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.
And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.
Game Over.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Challenge of Jesse Jackson - Notes from Cornel West

Cornel West, keynote speaker at the Martin Lut...Image via Wikipedia

Cornel West,  “The Challenge of Jesse Jackson,” 1984

Notes and annotations by Alfred Snider

America began as a liberal capitalist nation permeated with patriarchal and racial oppression.
American liberalism is not about opposing feudal systems, as in Europe, but on creating opportunities to accumulate private property, and thus at home with the domination of African descendants and women.
America embodied ideals of bourgeois freedom (property owning, accumulate capital, speak ones mind, and equal opportunity with racist and sexist constraints.
When the white male non-property owners got the vote without having to organize a mass movement for it, they became eternally in allegiance to the existing political order.
Extraordinary American productivity owing to technology, natural resources and the importation of labor (like slaves) enabled considerable upward social mobility for many. Lower classes subscribe to the “rags to riches” theory even though they may be excluded for racial and ethnic reasons.

The American left attempts to call into question the consensus of the liberal American ideology on behalf of the disenfranchised and disadvantaged.
There are seven historical elements of the American left:
Civic republicanism
Trade unionism
Socialism (including communism and anarchism)
And Black Radicalism

Civic Republicanism: Important mostly for its presence in political discourse, the idea of an ideal democracy where all citizens participate.  Yearns for a utopian polis of equal citizens. Rarely surfaces in an organizational form, does not mobilize people to action and change.

Populism: Those who are oppressed and are a majority need to rise up to have their needs met. Examples: farmers, exploited tenant laborers, victimized workers. Focuses on centralization as an enemy and large institutions as villains. Chain stores and mail order crowd out local businesses, large corporations hurt small companies, etc. Huey Long & Father Coughlin.  But it mostly tried top use federal power to stop these other centralized forces, which were inherently in league with them. Populism was weak because it also embraced xenophobia and isolationism, and feared “the other.”

Trade Unionism: was not class-consciousness as much as craft consciousness. It tried to mobilize workers, but focused on white male workers. It focused on large top-down organizations and bought into foreign policies that reflected xenophobia, especially fear of communism. New progress is being made by a focus on women and workers of color. The left probably cannot be regenerated in America without the contribution of labor.

Communitarianism: utopian radicalism that is proud of its utopianism. American society cannot be transformed, but we can build new communities around principles we embrace. These communities naturally presupposed ideological and cultural homogeneity.

Feminism: Most impressive contemporary movement in America.  Rooted in abolitionist movement of 19th Century and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  Biggest contribution is to show how taken for granted natural everyday affairs and language can be oppressive, in this case to women. This is deeply transformative to many.  Although divided into different camps, it is highly able to influence the future of the American left.

Socialism: Not indigenous to America, but came over as a European import. Populist socialist movements like that of Eugene V. Debs thrived, but also resisted incorporating people of color early on. It was poisoned by the existence of the Soviet Union in the minds of many.  The communist movement actually successful recruited many African Americans but still had the poison of Soviet linkage. The “rags to riches’ myth also undercut it substantially.

Black Radicalism: It has been bred in a unique black Christian culture, but is always seen as different from more European isms. Divided as integrationist, assimilationist, or nationalist has not helped.  Opportunism (scrambling for crumbs) has often been its downfall, from Douglass to Booker T. Washington to Martin Luther King.


In a time of political triumph by the right in the 1980’s, many in the left still held black radicalism at arm’s length.  This was true of the Jackson campaign. He has the first really serious black candidate for president and gained well over 20% of the vote and showed well in polls, also attracting Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and whites. But the American left kept its distance.

African Americans finally had some political success in Chicago and in NYC (Adam Clayton Powell), but their strength remained in urban areas and in gaining some seats in congress. Jackson sought to go far beyond this, to have a national campaign, yet this effort was based on his ability to broker with democratic party elites. Jackson’s attempt to build new institutions such as the Rainbow Coalition were limited, because:
1. Jackson’s charismatic style accentuates enthusiastic attraction to him but not to creating enduring structures.
2. The black supporters that are the main pillar of his movement find it difficult to engage in prolonger political organization.
3. Allegiance to the democratic party diffuses energy that could be spent on political mobilization.

Jackson was very successful in the primaries. This is because his opponents had ceded much of the liberal left positions to him in a race to the middle of the American electorate.
He focused on updating New Deal programs to a post-industrial America.
In foreign policy he rejected knee-jerk anti-communism, demanded attention to the situation in South Africa (ignored by many), he sided with third world revolutionary movements and against US support for dictatorships.
More importantly, he rejected US favoritism towards Israel and called for recognition of the needs of Arab states and specifically the Palestinian people.  Other candidates towed a pro-Israel line.
Jackson was damaged by his association with Louis Farrakhan and his unfortunate statement about NYC being “Hymietown.” These associations and policies were interpreted by the media and “Anti Israel, anti Jewish.”
The black political class would not endorse Jackson, thus ensuring that the more radical forces who did would stand out to others.

But, Jackson did create the broadest and largest political front of a Black nature since the days of Martin Luther King. His ability to harness the energies of Black Baptists was a good example of this.

The result is that although no one expected him to win, it was a coming of age for Black politics. If it could have caught on with other democrats, it could have made a huge difference and saved the waiting until Barack Obama in 2008.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jesse Jackson Speeches








Short Biography of Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson
Also known as: Jesse Louis Jackson, Jesse L. Jackson, Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson
Birth: October 8, 1941 in Greenville, South Carolina, United States
Nationality: American
Ethnicity: African American
Occupation: civil rights leader, politician, minister (religion)
Source: Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 27. Edited by Ashyia Henderson. Gale Group, 2001.


Jesse Jackson has firmly established himself as one of the most dynamic forces for social and political action in both the national and international arenas. He has campaigned for economic justice, human rights, world peace, and the United States presidency. An inspirational speaker, committed activist, and tireless and confident campaigner, Jackson began his career as a foot soldier in the Civil Rights movement of the 196Os and has developed into a leader of millions of Americans--black and white--a "rainbow coalition" of the nation's dispossessed and disenfranchised.
Jackson has drawn upon his own early experience in Greenville, South Carolina, to relate to his constituency. He was born on October 8, 1941, to a seventeen-year-old unwed high school student and her older, comfortably middle-class neighbor, a married man. Jackson's ancestry includes black slaves, a Cherokee, and a white plantation owner. Although the young Jackson was quite aware of poverty and illegitimacy, his mother, grandmother, and stepfather were always able to attend to family needs. Even so, his knowledge of social inequities and of his more privileged half brothers affected him. As Barbara Reynolds wrote in her biography Jesse Jackson: America's David: "Every teacher Jesse came into contact with took note of his insecurities, masked by a stoic sense of superiority. They never perceived him as brilliant, but rather each saw him as a charmer, a spirited, fierce competitor with an almost uncanny drive to prove himself by always winning, always being number one in everything." At Sterling High School Jackson was elected president of his class, the honor society, and the student council, was named state officer of the Future Teachers of America, finished tenth in his class, and lettered in football, basketball, and baseball.
In 1959 Jackson left the South to attend the University of Illinois on an athletic scholarship. During his first year, however, he became dissatisfied with his treatment on campus and on the gridiron and decided to transfer to Greensboro's North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, a predominantly black institution. There he was quarterback, honor student, fraternity officer, and president of the student body. After receiving his B.A. in sociology he accepted a Rockefeller grant to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary, where he planned to train for the ministry. Jackson was ordained a Baptist minister in 1968, though he had not finished his course work at CTS, having instead left in 1966 to commit himself full-time to the Civil Rights movement.
Jackson first became involved in the Civil Rights movement while a student at North Carolina A&T. There he joined the Greensboro chapter of the Council on Racial Equality (CORE), an organization that had led early sit-ins to protest segregated lunch counters. In 1963 Jackson organized numerous marches, sit-ins, and mass arrests to press for the desegregation of local restaurants and theaters. His leadership in these events earned him recognition within the regional movement; he was chosen president of the North Carolina Intercollegiate Council on Human Rights, field director of CORE's southeastern operations, and in 1964 served as delegate to the Young Democrats National Convention. In Chicago in 1965 Jackson was a volunteer for the Coordinating Committee of Community Organizations and organized regular meetings of local black ministers and the faculty of the Chicago Theological Seminary.

Joined King and the SCLC in 1965

Jackson joined Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1965 during demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, pushing for expanded voting rights for blacks. When the SCLC launched the Chicago Freedom movement in 1966, Jackson was there to put his knowledge of the city and contacts within the black community to work for King. He organized local ministers to support the movement, marched through all-white neighborhoods to push for open housing, and began work on the SCLC's economic program, Operation Breadbasket. Drawing from successful campaigns in other cities, Operation Breadbasket organized the black community to use selective buying and boycotts to support black manufacturers and retailers and to pressure white-owned businesses to stock more of their products and hire more black workers. Jackson served as Operation Breadbasket's Chicago coordinator for one year and was then named its national director. Under Jackson's leadership the Chicago group won concessions from local dairies and supermarkets to hire more blacks and stock more products from black businesses. It encouraged deposits from businesses and the government for black-owned banks and organized a Black Christmas and a Black Expo to promote black-owned manufacturers.
In addition to his SCLC activities, Jackson led a number of other campaigns in his adopted home city and state. In 1969 and 1970 he gathered Illinois's malnourished and led them on a march to the state capital to raise consciousness of hunger. He led a similar event in Chicago. The state responded by increasing funding to school lunch programs, but Mayor Richard Daley's machine in Chicago was less cooperative. The mayor's power and resistance to change, as well as an Illinois law that raised difficult barriers to independent candidates, prompted Jackson to run for mayor of Chicago in 1971. He was not successful; some believe, however, that his efforts laid the foundation for Harold Washington's successful bid to become Chicago's first black mayor in 1983.
In 1971 Jackson resigned from the SCLC to found his own organization, People United to Save Humanity (PUSH). Because of his aggressive, impatient, and commanding personality, Jackson had long irritated SCLC leadership; and, in the three and a half years after King's assassination, he had offended others with his public antics to secure a role as leader of the Civil Rights movement and his feuds with Ralph D. Abernathy, King's successor as president of the SCLC, over leadership, policy, and funding.
Through PUSH Jackson continued to pursue the economic objectives of Operation Breadbasket and expand into areas of social and political development for blacks in Chicago and across the nation. The 197Os saw direct action campaigns, weekly radio broadcasts, and awards through which Jackson protected black homeowners, workers, and businesses, and honored prominent blacks in the U.S. and abroad. He also promoted education through
PUSH-Excel, a spin-off program that focused on keeping inner-city youths in school and providing them with job placement.

Ran for President

Jackson launched his first campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. His appeals for social programs, voting rights, and affirmative action for those neglected by Reaganomics earned him strong showings in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New York, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. He received 3.5 million votes, enough to secure a measure of power and respect at the Democratic convention.
Jackson's 1988 campaign for the Democratic nomination was characterized by more organization and funding than his previous attempt. With the experience he gained from 1984 and new resources, Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition surprised the media and the political pundits. Initially written off as unelectable, Jackson emerged in the primary/caucus season as a serious contender for the nomination. He attracted over 6.9 million votes--from urban blacks and Hispanics, poor rural whites, farmers and factory workers, feminists and homosexuals, and from white progressives wanting to be part of a historic change. In his platform he called for homes for the homeless, comparable worth and day care for working women, a higher minimum wage, a commitment to the family farm, and an all-out war on drugs. "When we form a great quilt of unity and common ground" he told delegates at the party convention on July 19, 1988, "we'll have the power to bring about health care and housing and jobs and education and hope to our nation.
After early respectable losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, he won five southern states on Super Tuesday, March 8, 1988. On March 12 he won the caucus in his birth state of South Carolina and three days later finished second in his home state of Illinois. On March 26, 1988 Jackson stunned Dukakis and the rest of the nation in the Michigan caucus: Having won that northern industrial state with 55 percent of the vote, Jackson became the Democratic front-runner. Dukakis later recaptured the lead and the eventual nomination with strong showings in the second half of the primary season.
Jackson then exercised the power of his second-place finish to force his consideration as a vice-presidential running mate and to influence the nature of the Democratic Convention and the issues included on its platform. Although Jackson was not chosen as the vice-presidential running mate, he had succeeded in bringing Americans of all colors to consider a black man for the presidency and vice-presidency.
After the 1988 elections Jackson moved his home from Chicago to Washington, D.C. There he has campaigned against homelessness in the nation's capital. He was considered one of the top contenders to take over as the capital's mayor after Marion Berry was forced out of office by a drug scandal, but Jackson refused to run. Instead, he announced in July of 1990 that he would seek election as the District of Columbia's "statehood senator," a position recently established by the city government to push Congress to grant statehood to the district. He was elected in November and sworn into office in January of 1991. Jackson did not seek re-election after his six-year term as statehood senator ended in 1996, although he continued to advocate statehood for the nation's capital.

From D.C. to Wall Street

In 1997, Jackson shifted his focus from the nation's political capital to its financial capital. Seeing a need for a stronger minority presence on New York's Wall Street, Jackson founded the Wall Street Project. The organization lobbied companies to provide more business and employment opportunities for minorities. The Wall Street Project promoted conscientiousness among African American stockholders who may not realize the influence that they have as shareholders. As Jackson explained to Black Enterprise, "When you go into a meeting as a shareholder, you now have the right to the floor. Now you can walk into a board meeting and say 'Mr. Chairman, I'd like to see a list of our Board of Directors...a list of our employees so we can see where they fit into this company horizontally and vertically." A stockholder has the power to promote greater employment and business opportunities for African Americans.
Prior to founding the Wall Street Project, Jackson's strategy for influencing corporate behavior had been to organize protests. However, a pivotal event occurred in 1996 which helped Jackson decide to change his tactics. When charges had surfaced that Texaco employees had made racist comments, Jackson called New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, asking him to join him in picketing Texaco. McCall told Black Enterprise that he responded, "'Jesse, when you own a million shares you don't have to picket.'" Because McCall controlled New York state's investments, he had a great deal of influence with the companies the state had invested in.
With the Wall Street Project, Jackson hopes to give minorities the same influence McCall had with Texaco. Jackson told Black Enterprise. "We empower politically with our vote. Now we must empower economically with our dollar." But not just anyone can vote. Only stockholders have a real say in corporate operations. The purchase of just ten shares of stock, Jackson said, provides a shareholder with enough leverage to promote business opportunities for African Americans. As the stock's value increases, so too does the amount of influence a shareholder has. Jackson told Ebony, "So we have gone from sharecroppers to shareholders. We say to corporate America: We don't want to be just consumers and workers, but investors and partners."

Diplomatic Efforts

Throughout his career as a political and social activist, Jackson has also been a prominent figure in international diplomacy. In 1979 he traveled to South Africa to speak out against apartheid and to the Middle East to try to establish relations between Israel and the Palestinians. In January of 1984 he returned to the Middle East to negotiate the release of Lieutenant Robert Goodman, a black Navy pilot who had been shot down and taken hostage in the region. Later that year he traveled to Cuba to negotiate the release of several political prisoners held there and to Central America, where he spoke out for regional peace. In 1990 Jackson was the first American to bring hostages out of Iraq and Kuwait.
When three U.S. soldiers serving as part of NATO's forces in Yugoslavia were captured by the Yugoslav army in March of 1999, Jackson, along with an interfaith delegation, embarked on a diplomatic mission to negotiate their release. U.S. national security advisor Sandy Berger warned Jackson, as a private citizen, he did not have the authority to offer Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosovic any concessions on behalf of the United States. Berger also warned that Jackson's safety could not be guaranteed. Despite these warnings, Jackson, confident that he could persuade Milsocovic to release the prisoners as a gesture of goodwill, set off on his diplomatic mission. Jackson's confidence was not unfounded and when Jackson returned it was with the three soldiers at his side. The U.S. Senate recognized Jackson's efforts with a commendation.
In May of 1999, Jackson traveled to war-torn Sierra Leone, where he negotiated a cease-fire agreement between Tejan Kabbah, the country's president, and rebel Foday Sankoh. Jackson also negotiated for the release of more than two thousand prisoners of war. One year later, he returned to Sierra Leone to assist once more in the country's peace process.

Sought Answers in Suspicious Hanging Death

When teenager Raynard Johnson was found hanging by a belt from the pecan tree in front of his home in Kokomo Mississippi in 2000, suspicions arose immediately that his death may have been a lynching. Although medical examiners found no evidence of struggle, Johnson's parents could not believe that their son had committed suicide. Jackson did not believe the boy's death was a suicide either. He told Jet, "He had just gotten a computer. He was outgoing. He was in the Top 5 percentile on his test scores. He was very bright....A lot of signs point upwards. He was excited about life."
Jackson's Rainbow Coalition/PUSH launched its own investigation into Johnson's death. Jackson's investigators identified several people who could have been involved in the teenager's death and said that someone may have been angered by Johnson's friendship with two white girls. Authorities, however, said that Johnson's girlfriend had broken up with him shortly before his death and contended that all the evidence was consistent with suicide.
In 2000, Jackson, along with his son, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., published It's About the Money!: How You Can Get Out of Debt, Build Wealth, and Achieve Your Financial Dreams! The book is a how-to guide for financial independence and security. Jackson explained to Mother Jones that economic self-sufficiency is a vital base for the struggle for freedom. "It costs to send children to college," Jackson said. "It costs to have health insurance." Yet, in a culture of credit card debt, so many Americans do not understand basic economics. With his book, Jackson hoped to change that.

Never Far From Controversy

Jackson has stirred both admiration and criticism. His behavior in the hours immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., was a subject of controversy: Jackson claimed that he had held the dying leader, heard his last words, and had his shirt stained by King's blood. Other SCLC officers present at the murder have disputed those claims. As an organizer Jackson often overstepped his authority in SCLC matters and violated organization policy in a number of his Chicago campaigns. His economic boycotts were criticized by some businessmen as extortion and by some reformers for lacking follow-through. The management of PUSH's people and finances were the subject of close scrutiny and the freewheeling nature of the organization was regularly called into question. Jackson offended some Americans by negotiating with the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), Fidel Castro, and the Marxist Sandinista govenrment of Nicaragua. Jackson's connection with the Black Muslim leader and outspoken anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, as well as the candidate's reference to New York City as "Hymietown", outraged Jews.
However, the same driving ambition to achieve success that is the root of Jackson's weaknesses is also the source of his strength. He is a tireless worker who is fiercely committed to his causes, even when bedridden--Jackson suffers from sickle-cell trait. He is an intelligent, creative, and charismatic leader, and an inspirational speaker capable of archiving numerous details, then using them to encapsulate his agenda along with the aspirations of many Americans. He has a flair for the dramatic that infuses an increasingly tedious political process with life. And finally, Jackson acts while others talk of action. He has become the leading spokesman for Americans forgotten by the power brokers of the political process, especially blacks. In a 1996 speech, Jackson said, "If you go along and get along, you're a coward. Only by principled engagement can you be a force for change and hope." Jackson's life has been one of principled engagement.