Jesse Jackson on the Democratic Party 20 Years After His Historic 1984 Convention Address

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson joins us to discuss the state of the Democratic Party, the disenfranchisement of African American voters, the overthrow of Haitian President Jean Bertrand-Aristide, Bush’s refusal to address the NAACP and much more. [includes rush transcript]

Billy Bragg singing “Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards” here on Democracy Now! on day one of our special coverage “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency.” Billy Bragg was performing Saturday night at a concert sponsored by the Boston Social Forum, as hundreds of people gathered ahead of the Democratic National Convention that kicks off today.

All this week, we are broadcasting from Cambridge Community Television in historic Cambridge, just across the river from the Fleet Center where the Democratic Party is preparing to anoint John Kerry as the party’s nominee. Thousands of people are pouring into Boston: there are more than 4,300 delegates to the convention, there are protesters and antiwar groups, and most noticeably, there are at least 15,000 journalists.

Security in the city is very tight. In many ways, the Bush administration set the tone for the feel on the streets here with vague and ominous warnings about possible terror attacks during the convention. There are numerous law enforcement agencies operating in the streets of Boston and its surrounding areas. There are local police, state troopers, National Guard, Secret Service, FBI and Homeland Security. On several city overpasses, there are camouflaged soldiers who have armbands identifying them as military police. The Boston Globe is reporting that, in all, there are 5,000 law enforcement personnel deployed in Boston. Helicopters hover above and in a late addition to the security, eight Air Force F-16 fighter jets were called in to patrol the skies.

At various points throughout Boston, there are battalions of police dressed in full black riot gear. They appear to just be waiting—for what is not exactly clear. At least $60 million is being spent on the security operations. People are being stopped and searched on the subway system, traffic has been rerouted, highways have been shut down and iron fences and barbed wire have become part of Boston’s landscape. There are checkpoints throughout the city.

Meanwhile, a massive perimeter has been established around the Fleet Center and secret service agents are at every corner with bomb sniffing dogs. But despite the rhetoric from the Bush administration about possible terror attacks in Boston, it doesn’t seem to resonate with people who have descended on the city. The National Journal reports on a survey on how people here are relating to all the security threats. The poll reports 21% somewhat worried; l9% not worried at all; 0 percent worried and only 1% very worried.

Throughout the week, Democracy Now! will go from the floor of the Fleet Center to the protests in the streets bringing you in-depth coverage of the week in Boston. But first, we wanted to go back 20 years to the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco.

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson, addressing the Democratic National Convention on July 17, 1984 in San Francisco.

Jackson ran for president that year on a platform of giving voice to the disenfranchised. Twenty years later, Jesse Jackson is here in Boston at another Democratic Convention and he joins us in the studio here in Cambridge.

  • Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader. He is the founder of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, a progressive organization fighting for social change.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Throughout the week, Democracy Now! will go from the floor of the Fleet Center to the protests in the streets, bringing you in-depth coverage of the week in Boston. But first, we wanted to go back twenty years to the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco.

JESSE JACKSON: Our time has come. Our time has come. Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end, faith will not disappoint. Our time has come. Our faith, hope and dreams will prevail. Our time has come. Weeping has endured for nights, but now joy cometh in the morning. Our time has come. No grave can hold our body down. Our time has come. No lie can live forever. Our time has come. We must leave racial battle ground and come to economic common ground and moral higher ground. America, our time has come. We come from disgrace to amazing grace. Our time has come. Give me your tired, give me your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free and come November, there will be a change because our time has come. Thank you, and God bless you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Reverend Jesse Jackson addressing the Democratic National Convention twenty years ago, July 17, 1984, in San Francisco. Jackson ran for President that year on a platform of giving voice to the disenfranchised. Twenty years later, Reverend Jesse Jackson is here in Boston at another Democratic Convention. He joins us in the studio at Cambridge Community Television. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JESSE JACKSON: It was chilling to watch that speech.

AMY GOODMAN: Twenty years ago, in fact, you begin your op-ed piece today in the Boston Globe with that speech.

JESSE JACKSON: Well, actually, you know, July 17, 1960, I was jailed in Greenville, South Carolina trying to use a public library. So July 17, ’84 was twenty-four years to the day from the jail to that platform, and now twenty years later, the struggle continues, and the breadth of the participants brought in by the Rainbow has determined the course in a major way in the last twenty years. The 1984 campaign put on 2 million new voters. Democrats regained the Senate in 1986. We expanded in 1988. Governor Wilder became governor of Virginia in 1989. Dave Dinkins, mayor of New York in ’89. And by 1992 and 1996, both Dole and Bush got more white votes than Clinton did. He got more white, black and brown votes than they did and he won. And in 2000, the reason why Mr. Bush is President is because a million Black voters were disenfranchised. And that is of consequence, and we must never forget that.


JESSE JACKSON: Well, it was that Gore was behind 145 votes with 45,000 to be counted. The Supreme Court froze the process. That didn’t include the 27,000 in Duval County in Jacksonville that were not even submitted for the count. So by the margin of the discounted Black vote, of the disenfranchised Black vote, Bush, in fact, is President. But it wasn’t just Florida, in Cook County where Chicago is, they have in the booths the second chance machines, the scanners. You make a mistake, it kicks out, and you have it again. Well, in discolored counties, like DuPage and McHenry Counties, and the basic white suburban areas, if they made a mistake, there’s a second chance. But within the city, those machines were in the booths and they would not let them turn them on. “Pate” Phillips, head of the Senate from Illinois at that time. So the scheme was on to disenfranchise the Black voters and determine the outcome, and that’s what they did. I met with President Bush briefly at the Urban League meeting in Detroit last Friday. I said we would like to have a meeting to discuss one item. We need you to avow that all of those who vote, their votes will count, and that there would be no scheme, as it were, to interfere with the election because of some threat of a terror attack.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your take on President Bush not going to the NAACP convention?

JESSE JACKSON: Well, he used not going as a kind of counter culture strategy to mobilize the extreme white base. President Bush has not met with the United Methodist bishops, his own church leaders, one time in three years. He’s not met with the National Organization of Women, or Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He’s not met with organized labor. He’s not met with the Sierra Club. So there’s a — the Department of Justice and the White House has an ideologically driven closed door policy. He, in fact, has ideologically divided the country in a very ugly way.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe that election observers should be brought in?

JESSE JACKSON: U.N. observers should be brought in. You really can’t trust a state’s writers to give us a fair election. We are 50 state separate and unequal election systems. The right to vote is not a Constitutional right. It is a state’s right. So states control the process. In Vermont, all those in prison, unless you’re there for treason, can vote. In Florida, those who have been to prison cannot vote, ex-felons. In Illinois, when they come out of jail, you know, they can. I mean, you have these uneven systems. In Florida, when I was there campaigning in 2000, the Hispanic farm workers couldn’t get language support. Americans. The Creole-speaking Haitian Americans could not get language support. In fact, they had to show their driver’s licenses. They got intimidation. Students at Florida A&M with their own equipment who did register on the campuses may have not in the rolls downtown. I mean, all over the place, within one county, suburban Tallahassee County, you had the best machinery; in the poorer areas you had the worst machines. So you had this very uneven, odd patch of systems. We deserve better.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go south a little farther from Florida to Haiti. What do you make of what happened this year, the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide?

JESSE JACKSON: It was a U.S.-led coup. I mean, right through the whole process. Those young fellows with those guns and those new uniforms, they were in fact supplied by the U.S., perhaps to the Dominican Republic. Right to the time that Aristide was holding out, the guys who were taking over were in contact with Secretary of State Powell, and Powell’s position in effect was that Aristide’s time had come to go. And so when they allowed this military coup to take place, I might add, without a transition plan for democracy and investment, by the way, and they ushered him out of there to Central Africa, and then they protest his coming in the hemisphere to Jamaica. He’s now in South Africa, but the U.S. government’s fingerprints are all over the coup in Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think the democrats have not made a bigger issue of this? There was one perhaps strong statement from John Kerry, but overall, Congressmember Maxine Waters has made this her major campaign, going to the Central African Republic to bring President Aristide and the First Lady of Haiti back to this hemisphere. But there hasn’t been much mention in the opposition here.

JESSE JACKSON: It’s hard to explain why some democrats want the vote of the suffering masses, but don’t want to deal with their suffering. I mean, take a point here in South Carolina today, a state where democrats couldn’t win the Senate. They want the votes but they don’t want the suffering that goes — that one has to fight. For example, they have arrested 110,000 Blacks a year over the last six years. 110,000. That’s 110,000 calls to police,110,000 calls to lawyers, to bailiffs, to judges. 32 state prisons, one state college. The largest industry in the state is the arrest, monitoring and processing of Black people. Now in that state, Blacks are basically pro-democratic and pro-Labor. In the last election, state election, 600,000 Blacks are registered. 288,000 did not vote. 278 did vote. So more did not than did, then lost the governor’s race by 40,000 votes. In that state, if you increase Black turnout up to 400,000, you get a Senate seat. But to get that motivation, you must be willing to take on the criminal justice system and inspire people to create hope.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, we have to break. When we come back, I want to ask you about this BET/CBS poll. Shows support still muted for John Kerry, but disdain for the policies of President George Bush is overwhelming in the African American community. We are speaking with Reverend Jackson. We will be back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Breaking with Convention: War, Peace, and the Presidency. We are broadcasting from Cambridge Community Television. We are with you throughout the week. I’m Amy Goodman. Looking at the BET/CBS News poll, I’m going to look at the last result. Twenty years after his first bid for the presidency, the Reverend Jesse Jackson remains atop the list of the important national leaders of the African American community. Jackson’s name was volunteered by 21% of Black voters asked to name the most important national African American leader, ahead of Secretary of State Colin Powell at 13%. Jackson was first among both older and younger respondents. The Reverend Al Sharpton, who recently ran for the Democratic nomination, was far behind at 4%. Condoleezza Rice, the only woman mentioned, was mentioned by more than 1%. There are other results of this poll. Among them, mistrust lingers among African American voters. Half of Black voters say they are more likely to turn out this year because of the controversial events of Florida of 2000. Many Black voters claimed they were denied the vote in Florida then, but now hardly any Black voters say that would dissuade them from voting in 2004. While many, while they may be eager to get back to the polls in 2004, some Black voters are suspicious about what may happen. Less than half, 41%, have a lot of confidence that their votes will be counted properly in November; 39% have some confidence; 17% have little confidence. The mistrust that lingers coincides with a widespread belief that people do make deliberate attempts either to thwart African American attempts to vote or to miscount the ballots once cast. Fully two thirds of African Americans believe such malicious attempts are made against African Americans. The question: are there deliberate attempts to disrupt African American voting? 68% said yes. Reverend Jackson.

JESSE JACKSON: Amy, for 346 years, except 1865 to 1877, Blacks were denied the right to vote. Three and a half centuries. We just got the right to vote in 1965, and by year 2000, a million Black voters were disenfranchised. So the anxiety and fear is rooted in history and in practice. It is a practice that must end. If we had a Department of Justice that was vigorous, it perhaps would end. But under this administration, there’s been no willingness to come forthright demanding an open, free, fair election where all votes count.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that this whole question of whether something will happen is perhaps benefiting the Bush Administration, because if people feel that they will not be counted, they won’t bother to go out and vote?

JESSE JACKSON: You know, this time it may stimulate people to fight back and not to surrender. Two years ago, they said if there is a war, and there’s intentional disinformation by the government, would it be alright? People said, “Of course, that would not be a good thing.” They planted their idea, and Iraq was simply there, their disinformation campaign. Now they suggest if there is a terror attack, can we suspend the election? People say, “This shouldn’t happen.” But then some people think that bin Laden has been held for an October trophy. Others fear if there is an attack, that in fact if Bush is losing, the race will be manipulated. Why can people feel such distrust? Because our experience is that the election process is not fair and is targeting people, that’s not right.

AMY GOODMAN: Many people question why Al Gore told you not to go to the streets of Florida in 2000 in the middle of the contest when it would have mattered. What message is being sent to you right now about even raising these issues?

JESSE JACKSON: Well I am amazed in Florida that the party central would not unleash organized labor and others on the streets of Florida. And they laid back and they were playing while the republicans were at war and they simply lost because of inadequate contesting. The fact that no senator would even have a debate for two hours in the Senate on what happened was a kind of surrender that should never have taken place. This time around, I support the Kerry/Edwards campaign enthusiastically, but I am not under any constraints in my protest against (a) the fact the election was stolen in year 2000, and (b) that we need a plan of hope to reinvest in America and put America back to work and to build coalition. I was in Appalachia June 6 through 9. All through those hills, those who, they got their guns, but they lost their jobs and their health care. They’re rethinking that tradeoff. We’re going back to Appalachia on Labor Day weekend and taking Willie Nelson, as we set to mobilize those White and Black voters to vote their interests and not their fears. And that’s the key. Getting White and Black voters and Labor to vote their interests and not their fears.

AMY GOODMAN: Two quick questions. Kerry on the war abroad, your attitude toward Kerry’s not saying that he would pull out troops from Iraq and here at home on the issue of national health care.

JESSE JACKSON: Well it would be irrational to pull out unilaterally quickly. It’s much too complicated now. His position is that you need the global community to get us out. We went in by ourselves, we cannot come out by ourselves. And I can understand that. Now we need Germany, and we need France, we need Japan, we need Russia, to help us come out with some dignity as quickly as we can. We can’t just pull out tomorrow, say, for example. We must all understand, that would be a process. But Mr. Bush cannot change the course. He is too emotionally locked into being right. The fact is we found no weapons of mass destruction, no al-Qaeda connection or imminent threat, and now almost 1,000 Americans killed, 5,000 or 6,000 injured, billions of dollars spent. Now we are in isolation and we are in disgrace. We must get out of Iraq as quickly as we can, and one should say as feasibly. On the other hand, domestically, we will be fighting for a comprehensive health care plan because it is cost efficient and morally right. I mean, 44 million Americans have no health insurance and most of them work every day. They are the working poor. It costs more to leave people uncared for and to come in in desperation than to have some preventive comprehensive health care plan. That will be a big struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there should be single parent health care?

JESSE JACKSON: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that Kerry would ever support this as President?

JESSE JACKSON: Well, there’s always a culmination between the vision of the President, his congressional politics and street politics. The street politics must help set the climate. After all, the Democratic Convention, nor Kennedy in L.A. in 1960, didn’t set forth a public accommodations plan. That came out of Greensboro, North Carolina. It came out of the streets. Johnson didn’t lead the drive for the right to vote. That came out of Selma. So some combination of a willing president and street heat helps effect the climate in which these changes take place.

AMY GOODMAN: You will be speaking Wednesday night on the convention floor. Your main point?

JESSE JACKSON: Well, that we are in this pendulum between pain and rising hope. And the pain is, he speaks of safety in our streets and yet he reduces port security, President Bush. He speaks of safety and yet the AK-47’s and the uzis will be made legal again in September. He says leave no child behind, but 300,000 are being left behind by these taxcuts. So there was the pain. On the other hand, there is the possibility. I think that Kerry represents a strength of inclusion as he goes out to the streets, as he goes out to Labor and to Blacks and Latinos and women and environmentalists. The inclusion is appealing. His fight in the Mekong Delta, which is really the test under fire, he could have been fish bait when he went back to retrieve the soldiers on the PT boat. He stands alone in that category of valor. And then, of course, to choose John Edwards, a Southerner with a healing message of hope, is just what we need because we must include the South and see its potential, not ever write it off again. I am impressed with this ticket.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, thank you very much for joining us. Good to talk to you.


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