NAACP Convention SpeechRev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.July 12, 2005
To Chairman Julian Bond, a legendary force in the last half of the 20th century, whose work, vision and sacrifice, and whose call to conscience lifted a generation – we thank you. Of our generation of activists who survived the bullets and the lynchings, there is no brighter light, no keener mind, than Julian Bond.
To Bruce Gordon who now assumes the awesome responsibility to guide our civil rights mother ship – we share with you in your daunting task. You have the integrity, the intelligence and the strength of reasoning to take us another rung up freedom’s ladder. Be assured that the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition stands with you. The entire civil rights community will be served well to rally, close ranks and join with you in partnership.
To my lifelong friend Nelson Rivers, a giant of a man who continues to grow and serve selflessly – we are all in your debt and your mother’s debt for your unswerving faith and commitment to shared justice and security for all.
To Hillary Shelton, you are our 101st Senator and, even at a young age, in the best tradition of Clarence Mitchell – you serve us well.
To the Board of Directors – your strength, no matter the weather, keeps the ship afloat.
We meet today in the face of unusually chilly winds, when 20 US Senators wrapped in faith symbols and moral values – wearing Jesus clothes – cannot show contrition by voting to apologize for the Senate’s historic failure to oppose lynching – acts of state sponsored terror – for fear their constituents would reject them. And when there is such a cold silence from the White House when this “failure to act” occurred – chilly winds.
It is a chilly wind when the head of another country – Vicente Fox – can make a demeaning statement about Americans, and then seek to justify demeaning racial stereotypes and caricatures in the postage stamp. Even as we pay taxes at home and shed blood on foreign battlefields, the silence of the White House and Secretary of State on this is chilling.
Our Voting Rights are under attack, coupled with a growing lack of government enforcement. The silence of the Attorney General and the closed-door policy of the Department of Justice are chilling.
There is this urban chill of first-class jails for profit and second-class schools, marked by a jail drug culture that is destroying families and taking away voters. We must look anew at this international drug war in which our cities play the most minor role and pay the most major price. When I talked with New York and Chicago police chiefs, both acknowledged that the purchases are mainly suburban. The gun shops are mainly suburban, propped up by NRA policies. The coke comes from Columbia and South America; the heroin comes from Afghanistan under US occupation, brought in to the ports by ships and by trucks at known border points. The drug-gun industry attacks our cities like insurgents. We offer little defense. As we dump billions into Iraq to stop terror, the drug and gun terrorists are ravaging us at home.
It is in the face of these chilly winds that I greet you today.
I want to thank you for my upbringing and my liberated consciousness, for removing the veil from my eyes as a child. Unsung heroes like Rev. I.D. Quincy Newman in South Carolina, and a little known auto mechanic named AJ Whittenberg, and Rev. James Hall of Springfield Baptist Church, who led a demonstration on the Greenville airport because Jackie Robinson could not get off of the plane to use the toilet. These men kept talking about this “freedom thing.”
On July 17, 1960, along with seven students, I was arrested trying to use a public library, as a member of the NAACP youth chapter. We were directed to jail, and then bailed out, by the NAACP… but we helped change the course of South Carolina in very fundamental ways.
On July 17, 1984, 24 years to the day, I gave my speech at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco as a presidential candidate, having defeated US Senator and former South Carolina Governor Ernest Hollings, Senator Glenn, and others, in the primary process.
With your help I saw the light and joined the freedom train. During that season, we changed America’s direction, but not irreversibly. We defeated Goliath, but his sons and daughters have come roaring back.
So this Sunday in Greenville we will celebrate 45 years since being jailed in Greenville, and 21 since the historic run for the presidency in 1984.
Just this past year, Rainbow and NAACP – in coalition – were able to gain recognition of the King holiday in Greenville for the first time, against fierce opposition from Bob Jones University and the right wing. They sought to discredit Dr. King beyond the grave, and yet we prevailed. The struggle continues.
In this the year of our Lord 2005 the civil rights movement must declare this to be the Martin Luther King-Lyndon Johnson year. Under their leadership 40 years ago, promises made in 1865 were honored in some measure. Under their leadership 40 years ago, 346 years of voter denial ended. Under their leadership, and the tremendous legal work of the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, the laws of Jim Crow – a creature of the Supreme Court in 1896 – came tumbling down. Under their leadership, America was transformed in fundamental ways.
But the gains achieved during that period are now under attack. The vision of state’s righters and Confederates is again challenging the Union. Their vision is not merely of racial and gender inequality, and worker exploitation; it’s a fundamental conflict of North v. South not unlike a century ago. Two competing views of the American Dream.
The glorious vision of the war on poverty has shifted to a war of choice in Iraq and a war on the poor. The war in Iraq is costing lives, money ($345 billion so far, and $5 billion a month) and honor. We are shooting ourselves into global isolation, built upon lies and deception. A war without moral foundation can have no good outcome. Yet our sons and daughters, for whom we have such love and such high regard, are caught up in this madness.
The ethic of Jesus the Christ is lifting up the poor, healing the broken hearted, feeding the hungry, providing adequate housing for every American. That gospel of liberation is giving way to a gospel of prosperity – a gospel of the rich young ruler. There now is a driving force for a “Mansion-Down” view where the rich are enhanced with tax cuts and privileges, rather than a “Manger-UP” for the poor to break the shackles of their deprivation and denied rights.
Wolves dressed up and appearing to be sheep, dressed up in Jesus’ clothes. They are deceptive as they turned the tenets of our faith on its head. Christianity at its best is a revolutionary gospel for inclusion, for the poor, for the downtrodden.
Today we call to stop this trend. Both parties seem to have more in common on critical matters with each other, than with our needs. We must reassess the need for a course of independence and action – I refer to it as the third rail.
In Chicago, in the elevated train system, there are two tracks for the wheels, but the third rail has the electricity, the power to propel the train forward or backwards. If that rail is not on and alive, the other two rails settle to the status quo – they stay as they are. When we are acting, litigating, legislating, demonstrating for a moral cause, we shake up and energize the whole system for the good of all. That’s how change comes about.
Civil rights struggle is not synonymous with Democrats or Republicans, and they are not synonymous with the civil rights struggle. We turn up the voltage of the third rail; we move both, but we must not be captive of either.
Historically, both parties found common ground in the status quo. We always needed the third rail of sacrifice and action.
In the time of slavery, conservatives said “treat them as you want, they are your property.” The Supreme Court of that era blessed this trend of thought.
Liberals said, “Be generous and patient toward them.”
The abolitionists said, “End the whole system.” The third rail.
It was John Brown and Frederick Douglas and Dred Scott, and the runaway slaves. It was neither party, nor the compliant ones who adjusted to the system that created the dynamic for change.
In resisting Jim Crow and faith-based lynchings – I say faith-based because most lynchings were not abductions at night with men hiding their faces behind sheets and hoods. They were rituals after church on Sunday. We were lynched in the name of God. Out of your theology – your view of God – comes your view of people, your view of politics, of laws, of economics, of culture. This theology that chose race supremacy over love, and distorted the very essence and message of Jesus, has been a rat in the well of our quest to make this a more perfect union.
In resisting Jim Crow and lynching laws, and a perverse cultural theology, the NAACP, in its formation, had to build a course of action outside of the political norm. The third rail.
In the quest for women’s right to vote, men on both sides of the aisle railed against women’s rights. The women’s suffrage movement was independent of the parties – third rail.
In the 1930, labor fought for the right to organize. Both parties supported right to work laws and too often they still do. Labor faced struggles at the plant gates. Workers were martyred. It was a third rail struggle. Out of it came a middle class. The 8-hour day. The NLRB. Dignity for workers.
The struggle to de-segregate the military took place over the objection of both parties. The struggle that led to the 1954 decision was independent. It came from Thurgood Marshall and Houston and the NAACP “to” the Supreme Court.
The struggle for the 1964 and 1965 civil rights acts came from Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney — the marching feet in Selma and Montgomery, not from Pennsylvania Avenue nor Capitol Hill. They were independent, Third Rail struggles.
The fight to recognize the United Farm Workers Union came from Cesar Chavez’s Leadership, from the blood, sweat and toil of workers in the fields of California and Texas, not from the halls of Congress.
The third rail can relate to both parties, but must maintain its own identity and not be captive of either. We must be the voice of conscience; we must march to the beat of a different drummer. Elected officials too often represent the cultural norms, we must be the creative minority with a majority vision, and like a powerful tugboat we must pull the ship of state toward the safe landing of peace and justice.
We are not happy with the Democratic Party; we are not afraid of Republicans. 40 years after Dr. King and Lyndon Johnson, and the martyrs of our modern day struggle, we will pledge to not let them down. We cannot let Washington or Wall Street co-opt our identity – our electric rail for change – and wear down our will for equality. They are both central to the problem.
The Senate filibuster compromise was a cave in, a collapse. It protected the rights of minorities IN the Senate, but did not protect the right of minorities, women or labor OUTSIDE of the Senate. It was a charmed move for the club, but had no real value for civil rights, workers rights and social justice. It opened the door to the rightwing to take over our courts.
So the battle for the soul of the Supreme Court today – with the retirement of Justice O’Connor and the expected resignation of Justice Rehnquist, and possibly Justice Ginsburg – defines this era of civil rights struggle. Will the Court follow the tradition of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Court and strike down racial segregation and inequality and uphold civil rights? Or will it turn its back? That’s why we must do everything in our power to fight for an independent, fair Supreme Court that upholds the constitution, and prevent Bush from stacking our Courts with rightwing ideologues who would define the laws of our lands for the next 40 years.
The alliance of both parties against class action lawsuits, denying workers and consumers a voice, the bankruptcy laws, lack of concerted action on predatory exploitation, the will to write off the South by the Democrats in the last election – the largest region with the most needs – make it clear that we must form a third rail independent labor-civil rights action agenda.
And negotiate with whoever chooses to appreciate the legitimacy of our interests and needs.
We have the power to change the course of our nation – by the margin of our unregistered Black voters in the South:
North Carolina: 483,000
South Carolina: 210,000
We have not earned the right to do less than our best. We are losing too many battles by the margin of cynicism and feigned effort. We must go home with a burning desire to target registration for the 2006 campaigns.
We need New Constitutional Rights and New Vehicles.
In this quest we must build in new Constitutional rights and pick up where the 13, 14th and 15th amendments – which passed by only two votes – left off. We must fight for new rights and new vehicles to achieve these rights, to move from civil rights, to universal human and constitutional rights. We cannot just fight for grants and programs, and new faces in high places. We need new protections:
50 million Americans are now without health care insurance, a deepening crisis in a land of plenty that threatens our security. The health care system is broken, treated like a privilege, and leaving more and more families in the gap.
So we need a Constitutional Amendment for equal, high quality health care for all Americans. Constitutional rights are a vision for a more perfect union, not a program or a grant.
Public education in America continues to leave too many of our children behind. Schools suffer from unequal funding, with schools in poor and urban areas receiving inadequate resources relative to their suburban counterparts. Teachers are not properly compensated. This administration has not provided the required funding for its “No Child Left Behind Act.” Flawed policy. It’s flawed because it raises the ceiling without evening the floor.
I spoke at Little Rock Central High School last week, only to be reminded of the funding gap today between urban schools and suburban schools – which is greater today than in 1957. Chicago inner city schools spend around $5500 per child. Suburbs ten miles away spend over $17,000 per child. Educational inequality and segregation has moved from “race based” to tax based, but the results are the same.
So we must support the NEA lawsuit challenging the under-funding of No Child Left Behind, and work together to achieve a Constitutional Right to equal, high quality education for all Americans.
We are exporting capital and jobs, and importing cheap labor and products. Wages are down, unemployment is up. Right to work means right to exploit.
Hotel workers in New York earn $17 per hour, with health benefits and retirement plans. Hotel workers in Louisiana or Atlanta make $7 per hour with no benefits or retirement plan. Bally’s workers in Las Vegas make $40,000; yet in Tunica, MS, just $20,000. That’s the difference between right to work v. right to organize and be protected and represented by unions.
So we must support the Employee Choice Act, and a constitutional right for workers to organize.
We have won the vote in the last two elections; but we lost the count. We still have 50 separate and unequal elections; voter suppression and fraud taint our system.
So we support the Conyers-Dodd comprehensive voter reform bill, the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, and a constitutional amendment affirming the individual, federally protected right to vote.
The Congressional Black Caucus met with president Bush a few months ago. Congressman Jackson asked President Bush if he would support voting rights act extension with Section 203 and Section 5. He said he didn’t know anything about it.
That’s an incredible response when you consider that Texas was under Voting Rights Act supervision. He knew very well what the question of voting rights enforcement was about. His constituency resists Section 203 and Section 5. They want to use tricky language, like “make it national and permanent” – they know full well the Voting Rights Act is narrowly tailored and would not survive strict scrutiny and would be declared unconstitutional. Another wolves in sheep’s clothing maneuver.
Already we see the ugly heads of voter restriction being raised. A lawsuit in Indiana. The Schwarzenegger redistricting plan in California. Tom DeLay in Texas. Perdue in Georgia. Georgia passed voter identification legislation, which requires you to have a state-issued ID to validate your registration and vote. So if you go to Georgia Tech or University of Georgia, you can use your student ID – they are “state” schools. But if you go to Morehouse, Spelman or Emory, your student ID is not valid – they are “private” schools. 100 counties in Georgia do not offer state ID’s, making it more difficult to register and vote. But to vote by absentee ballot no ID is required.
This voter restriction bill in Georgia revives a de facto poll tax, and Attorney General Gonzales must enforce the Voting Rights Act and prevent it from being implemented. But just as Ashcroft would not act on Tom DeLay’s manipulation of congressional districts in Texas, Attorney General Gonzales will not respond to our request to meet on Perdue’s voter manipulation and disenfranchising plan in Georgia. We need this administration to enforce – not ignore – the Voting Rights Act NOW.
I urge us this August 6, on the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, to have a massive march in Atlanta, Georgia. A pro-Democracy rally. A rally for Voting Rights Act reauthorization. For workers’ right to organize. For the end to the Iraq war. For a fair, independent and impartial Supreme Court.
40 years later we must focus anew on the threats to our gains over the last 40 years. Likewise we must continue looking at the 4th stage of our struggle – beyond slavery and segregation and the right to vote – to access to capital, industry and technology – our next phase.
What does it means when the government spends millions on bankruptcy proceedings but we are locked out? What does it mean when United Airlines spends millions on bankruptcy proceedings, but we are locked out. In effect, United Airlines boycotted our talented financial services firms.
We must intensify our presence at shareholders meetings, demanding greater accountability in the use of pension funds. For too long, we have spent our energy knocking to open up closed doors. We must look at new alliances and rather than just knocking on closed doors, we must build our own doors and build bridges with new partners.
I want to make a bold proposal today, to look anew at a strategic alliance between African Americans and Latinos. We cannot allow even the racial tensions within Mexico, the erroneous insulting statement of President Fox and the Memin Penguin stamp, to divert our attention away from the ultimate alliance between struggling workers of Mexico and of the US, and the African factor within the Mexican cultural experience.
African Americans and Latinos combined make up more than a majority of the populations in this country’s 100 largest cities. When we work together we can finish the unfinished business of our movement: the constitutional right to vote; the constitutional rights to health care and education, the right to organize and breathe free.
African Americans and Mexican Americans share the lowest paying jobs.
We share the schools that have the least investment and resources. We have the highest infant mortality rates and the shortest life expectancies.
We face the most predatory exploitation, whether it be the auto, insurance or financial services industries. We share the most jail cells. Dr. King in his last staff meeting convened Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Jews, and labor to focus on a coalition – a working poor people’s campaign to lift all boats at the bottom and leave no one behind. That insight was brilliant
Yet we share our blood disproportionately for our country in times of war. We are the most likely to be profiled and suspected. We face the same racial inequities on a daily basis. Our profile is that we work harder and get paid less, we pay more for less, live under stress and don’t live as long. We must reassess our relationship and have a summit to build on our common goals and needs, and to work on a shared destiny.
The victory of Villaraigosa, like the victory of Tom Bradley that preceded him, is a manifestation of our coalition. The victory of Harold Washington in Chicago, Brown in Houston, Webb or Pena in Denver, Dave Dinkins in New York, were all examples of what happens when our coalition finds common ground. We must unite our coalition around these 10 points:
1. Teach our children to be bilingual.2. Teach our children nonviolence and to avoid gang warfare.3. We must conduct trade missions.4. We must conduct cultural exchanges.5. We must have a conference with our religious leaders.6. We must merge our quest to join corporate boards and upper levels of management.7. Our labor and consumer patterns drive the companies; we are denied the road to inclusion.8. We must fight for affirmative actions laws and strong enforcement by the EEOC and OFCCP.9. We must fight for comprehensive immigration reform.10. We must connect with Africans and Mexicans whom we share common history and challenges. They are our family in the diaspora.
Mexico is next door, not back door. Mexico is older than the United States. We must view Mexico as a hemispheric partner in progress. It is the largest trading partner in this hemisphere, and second in the world. The U.S. does more trade with Mexico than Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK combined.
Two-thirds of our neighbors speak Spanish. We have the more telephone traffic than anywhere in the world. One million people come back and forth across the border each day. 1000 people are deported. Africans in Mexico were the first freed in this hemisphere, before the Untied States, Cuba or Brazil. We must build upon that tradition.
We must work for comprehensive immigration reform, and the McCain-Kennedy bill, and actively work together to expand the road to opportunity in our nations, and peace between our nations.
It occurred to me in 1984 – the reason why we named ourselves the “Rainbow” – is that I observed there were more people OUTSIDE of the convention, than IN the convention. African Americans were having a rally. Latinos were having a rally. Women were having a rally. Asian Americans were having a rally. Peace activists were having a rally. Environmentalists were having a rally.
So I said why don’t we pull all of that together and form a third force. And it was that action that elected new mayors and city council members from New York to Chicago, Cleveland to Los Angeles. It was that action that increased the most Black and Latino and Asian elected officials in history. It was that action of voter registration that led to US Senate victories in the South. It was the Rainbow base that enabled Bill Clinton to win. And even in 2000 and 2004 we won the vote, but lost the count – which remains even another challenge.
But be encouraged. Don’t let this foul wind of rightwing zealotry break your spirit. We have more capacity to fight back and make this a more perfect union than ever before. We have strategic partners. We have valued skills. We have a will to work. If we have a made up mind and will to fight. we will prevail. This is not dusk moving toward midnight; it is dawn moving toward daylight. They have thrown their hardest blows, and yet we stand.
It is this faith that will carry us to a more perfect union.
It is this faith that will build more schools and fewer jails. It is with this faith that we will live longer and be stronger. It is with this faith that we will end the madness of the war in Iraq, and stop the genocide in Darfur.
It is with this faith that we will move beyond diversity toward real equity and parity. We have the most diverse Supreme Court in history, but it is devoid of the content of social justice and historical context. And now its fundamental direction lies in the balance.
It is with this faith that 2006 will be a year with a great surge in political empowerment and growth. It is with this faith that we will become healers of nations and builders of a more perfect union.
It is with this faith that we will march in Atlanta on August 6. It is with this faith that we will win the battle to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then God will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal our land.
Thank you very much. Keep Hope Alive.