JESSE JACKSON JR.’S LEGACY: Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned from Congress with a poignant note following a personal journey that took a heartbreaking turn. “For seventeen years I have given 100 percent of my time, energy, and life to public service,” he wrote in a letter delivered before Thanksgiving. “However, over the past several months, as my health has deteriorated, my ability to serve the constituents of my district has continued to diminish.”
The congressman, who has been receiving treatment for bipolar disorder, acknowledged not just his health challenges but a deeply embarrassing federal investigation into the misdirection of campaign funds. There is no point in trying to diminish that charge. But neither should it obscure the rest of Jackson’s service. From the moment the son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson was elected in 1995, he pursued one of the most independent and reform-oriented agendas in the House. Jackson clashed not just with the right, but with Democrats who chose to compromise with the forces of reaction, militarism and austerity. Jackson not only condemned the Bush v. Gore ruling in 2000, but a year later—when most Democrats were cowed by 9/11—he stood in front of the Supreme Court to challenge the legitimacy of the decision and call for national voting reform. Jackson not only voted against the Patriot Act; he joined Bernie Sanders to push legislation to exempt libraries and bookstores from having to provide the government with the reading lists of citizens. He not only voted against the invasion of Iraq, but signed on to a lawsuit arguing that George W. Bush could not take the country to war without a full declaration from Congress.
Jackson’s last major proposal sought to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour. “That may sound like a hefty wage increase, but it doesn’t fully equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968—which today would be closer to $11 per hour,” he explained in June. His career may have ended on a sad note, but it would be sadder still if we were to neglect the long arc of a service that bent toward economic and social justice. JOHN NICHOLS
A CALL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN BURMA: During his historic speech at Burma’s Yangon University on November 19, Barack Obama acknowledged one of the world’s most pressing human rights crises: the persecution of the Rohingya in Burma’s Rakhine State. “There is no excuse for violence against innocent people,” he said of recent attacks on the group. Although his remarks stopped short of actual policy demands in support of the Rohingya, the president brought attention to one of the biggest stains on Burma’s reform process.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority stripped of Burmese citizenship in 1982, have faced decades of persecution at the hands of the country’s Buddhist majority. Government figures show that sectarian violence has killed at least 180 Rohingya in the past year alone and displaced an additional 110,000. Haunting satellite photos published by Human Rights Watch on November 17 show entire towns once populated by Rohingya now burned to the ground. To make matters worse, threats of violence from religious leaders have blocked international aid groups from delivering crucial support to squalid Rohingya refugee camps. The Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group, obtained pamphlets published by Buddhist monks warning NGOs and Rakhine locals not to employ, aid or even associate with the Rohingya. Director Chris Lewa told The Nation that the message is clear: “Any person in the Rakhine community trying to help Muslims will be punished severely.”