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Rev. Jesse Jackson: Defend the Constitutional Right to Vote & Expand Automatic Voter Registration

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Rev. Jesse Jackson joins us in studio to discuss how his Rainbow PUSH Coalition has set up its own commission of scholars and activists to look into voter suppression. This comes as President Trump convened an Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to look into his allegations of voter fraud during the 2016 presidential election. Jackson is also on a tour of college campuses to register voters.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to switch the topic to another issue that you’ve been raising a lot of concerns about and that we also discussed with Reverend Barber last week, was the issue of voter suppression across the country and the impact that that is having on the ability of the people to express their democratic will.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: One understanding, Hillary—Hillary won the election by 3 million votes. Gore was winning, and they cut—they stopped the count, on the state’s rights, and didn’t count the votes in Duval County. He did not fight back. I don’t understand that yet. I thought Hillary threw in the towel much too quickly. The Electoral College is as outdated as a Confederate statue. She won the election. Now, we’ve heard the narrative about the Confederate—about the Russian hacking. That’s a factor, no doubt. And Comey and the FBI, that’s a factor, no doubt. And Electoral College.

But voter suppression is not dealt with. And in North Carolina on the November 9th, the Republican chairman celebrated, “We suppressed the black vote!” He declared it, a celebration. I spoke at a school with 7,000 Democratic voters. They moved the precinct from the campus to three miles down the road. They moved 168 precincts in North Carolina. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh, in Detroit and in Wisconsin, voter suppression was the difference in those four critical states. And so, I think that it is—we have formed a voter commission, Dr. Barber and others of us, to offset the idea of the voter fraud, because there is no evidence of voter fraud, but much evidence of voter suppression.

When we got the right to vote in 1965, blacks couldn’t vote. White women couldn’t serve on juries in the South. Eighteen-year-olds couldn’t vote. You couldn’t vote bilingually. You could not vote bilingually. But we were able to challenge that and get proportional representation and democratize democracy. And so, what they tried—when we do registration, they do nullification. I think that we may have underestimated the impact of voter nullification schemes. The more we put in the bucket, the bigger the hole gets. We must now stop and fight the fights of state’s rights and fight for—in Illinois, we now have automatic voter registration—automatic voter registration, and must fight for the constitutional right to vote. We do not have the constitutional right to vote, only the state’s right to vote. And we must have the constitutional right to vote, so states cannot upend the national election. And we must also fight right now for automatic registration at age 18.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what could be done, especially in light of the fact that President Trump is creating—has created a commission to investigate voter fraud?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: And that’s why we put—the alternative commission is a commission on voter justice. And we’re going around the country doing workshops.

AMY GOODMAN: Has this been constituted, this alternative commission?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: It has been constituted, and it is now rolling out. Attorney Barbara Arnwine and others of us, Vince Hughes, chairman of the Finance Committee, and president—

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Arnwine is the—her title is—she is with—the civil rights attorney in Washington, D.C.?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Indeed. And so, that commission, Bernie Sanders is identifying with it, and Elizabeth Warren is identifying with it. We’re going to have an alternative to the voter fraud commission.

But last week, I went to Virginia, went to 21 stops in five days, doing voter registration, and in New Jersey. And I found many students who are protesting have not yet faced the fact if you live in—you’re from New York, you’re in school in Charlottesville, you have the right to do onsite voting where you live actually. So students who are living in one place and voting in another make an unnecessary burden upon themselves. So we’re fighting for residency rights in voting. And if students in Virginia turn the [inaudible] higher crime and terror act into mass registration, they can win the election in Virginia. But they cannot very well be in Virginia and Charlottesville or Richmond and not be able to vote where they live.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you know, President Trump tweeted against the black athletes but did not tweet about the second Charlottesville rally that was held this past weekend. He attacked the black athletes, but not the white supremacists, led by Richard Spencer, in Charlottesville. This is Charlottesville two, with their torches, once again?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, if they love the American flag so much, why do they not challenge the Confederate flag, which is antithetical to the American flag? They rally around the Robert E. Lee—Robert E. Lee said, “Don’t bury me in a Confederate uniform. Don’t have any paraphernalia around me, because we lost that war, and it would be an insult to the North. In the name of healing, don’t put any Confederate paraphernalia around me.” Lincoln forgave and pardoned many of them in the name of healing. So this idea of reopening the—

AMY GOODMAN: And didn’t Robert E. Lee say, “Don’t make statues of me”?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Of course he said that. And so, this insistence of making of him an idol, itself, among other things, is bad religion. But what we must do in the meantime is register, with passion, campus by campus, and register to vote where you actually get your mail every day, register and vote in the school that you attend. Right—residency is your right to vote in that area. And if students across that state, and labor and churches, vote their hopes and not their fears, they can win the election in November and set the pace for 2018.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Finally, I wanted to ask you—you’ve been around a long time. You’ve seen a lot of presidents come and go. Your reaction to the continued war that President Trump is waging against huge sections of the American population?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: It’s hard to fathom, the idea that you would start a campaign off challenging the birthright, the birthplace of President Barack Obama, which was incentivized to feed him as red meat to the South, the fact that you would make a case calling affordable healthcare “Obamacare.” It’s a name Democrats should have rejected at the very beginning. Calling Affordable Care “Obamacare,” that’s like just putting the black hand on top of the white hand to win the race against Harvey Gantt. There’s no such law as Obamacare. And I saw many people who were really rooting for Affordable Care, but not for Obamacare. They want omelet, don’t want the eggs. Like toothache chewing ice, it’s irrational. It doesn’t make sense. And so, the race baiting, the equivalent of those who are marching against the Nazis marching and the white supremacists in Charlottesville with those who were marching and were killed, is—we deserve better.

But I would argue that we—in the struggle for the soul of America, don’t surrender. Don’t spend all your time reacting to his tweets. There’s some things we can do, like in your state, fight for. New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan have only one day to vote: on Tuesday. These states should lead the way in getting automatic registration. They should lead the way in multi-day voter registration. So, in the meantime, don’t spend all your time reacting to his tweets, because he sets the agenda. As long as you’re reacting to him, you’re not, in fact, focusing on jobs, justice, health and education.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, one last thing: happy 76th birthday.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, thank you very much. And God has blessed me in a big way to be a long-distance running, keeping—I’m excited about going to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I’m excited about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, civil rights leader, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, ran for president in 1984 and 1988, now on a multi-leg tour promoting voter registration on college campuses, headed to Puerto Rico with a planeload of aid this weekend. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, President Trump pledges to end DACA. We’ll speak with one of the first undocumented lawyers.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Shame, shame, shame, shame.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Today’s visitors from the Abrons Book Club, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. The song you’ve been listening to, “Almost Like Praying,” by acclaimed playwright, musician Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, that song featuring Rubén Blades, Gilberto Santa Rosa and pop star Jennifer Lopez and many more. Miranda recorded the song less than a week after he tweeted that President Trump is going straight to hell for his administration’s slow response to the crisis in Puerto Rico.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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