I spoke with Reverend Jesse Jackson about Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s 39th Annual Conference, which begins tomorrow in Chicago and runs through Wednesday. He talked about its focus and what he hoped it would contribute to the progressive movement.

Jackson said tomorrow’s session will focus on the state of civil rights.

“Civil infrastructure has collapsed, the justice infrastructure,” he said. “Unenforced civil rights laws might be the defining issue of our time.”

He said mining workers in West Virginia were killed due to lack of enforcement of workplace safety laws; unenforced fair lending laws allowed banks to charge usurious fees and steer consumers into subprime products even when they should have qualified for prime; the BP oil spill crisis arose from a lack of enforcement by the Minerals Management Service and environmental laws not being “honored”; and profit-driven globalization has been supported “without globalizing human rights and workers rights.” 

“Indulgence and greed, and lack of oversight, has driven our nation to the brink,” he said.

Jackson said “unchecked greed” has led to poverty, unemployment, a sinking middle-class, and our cities being “under siege.” He described an urban “state of emergency” in terms of the loss of manufacturing jobs and tax base, and cuts of services—in public transportation, housing, recreation, education and other vital areas. 

At the conference, activists will be laying down a marker.

“I think we’re going to be calling, number one, for mass actions for jobs, industrial policy, and trade policy,” he said. “It’s time for mass action. Number two, a real [focus] on student loan debt forgiveness, retroactively. The college diploma should be a green card to open up the future—not a card representing huge debt. We’ll also be challenging the expanding war investment at the expense of national development. For example, the Senate passed $60 billion more for the war in Afghanistan, yet would not consider Senator Harkin’s bill—$23 billion for teachers. Also, the President’s Executive Order must be enforced so as to include all people in the stimulus and economic development.”

Rainbow PUSH reached out to the Obama Administration and officials from the FDIC, the Treasury and the  Department of Education will be in attendance.

“The challenge for progressives after such a huge election in 2008 is to maintain the will to continue to vote and to coalesce, and to keep raising high the chin bar of justice and peace and inclusion,” he said. “We have the numbers if we do not faint in the face of adversity. We’ve never lost a battle that we fought. Never won a battle unless we fought.”