Jackson, at Harvard, calls for bold leadership
By Paula Maute
In a fiery speech at Harvard University Tuesday night, Rev. Jesse Jackson called for "bold new leadership" in America and criticized the current political process for producing morally bankrupt leaders afraid to fight for social and economic justice.
Speaking for nearly two hours at the John F. Kennedy Center for Politics, Jackson advocated a redistribution of America's wealth from the corporate elite to the working poor. He called for an increase in the minimum wage, economic equality for women, economic investments in slums, and building more affordable housing.
Jackson described the recent presidential campaign as an "impoverishment of American politics," and criticized both President George Bush and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis for conforming to the "bland" images and policies prescribed by pollsters and political advisors.
"One hundred days later ..." Jackson said, referring to Bush's first three months in office, "there are no bold new initiatives" to fight urban crime, "no alteration of the Willie Horton furlough plan ... no anti-apartheid plan ... no aggressive Middle East plan ... [and] no bold response to glasnost or perestroika," Jackson said. But, "one hundred days later," Jackson continued, Eastern Airlines is still floundering, the contras are receiving more funding and the savings-and-loans associations have been "bailed out".
Bush was elected because he appealed to the status quo, and furthered his campaign with racist and sexist fears, according to Jackson. The disenfranchised and many others were alienated from the political process.
"Public cynicism won more votes than [President] Bush did," Jackson claimed, adding that "50 percent of eligible [voters] didn't bother to vote" in November. And, in an apparent attack on Dukakis, who defeated Jackson in the Democratic primaries, Jackson said, "In 1988, it took a lot of effort to lose. The challenge to liberalism went undefended." Dukakis' campaign managed to "survive the primaries without promising anything to anyone," Jackson said.
The liberal tradition represents collective bargaining, child labor laws, abolitionists, social change, civil rights and women's rights, according to Jackson. In contrast, he added, conservatism represents slave masters, monopolies, imperialism and big business. "I am a liberal," Jackson declared, "a liberator and change agent." That statement drew rousing applause from the standing-room-only crowd of about 600.
Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate and long-time civil rights activist, called President John F. Kennedy a "courageous" leader for supporting Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s. "To reach out to King when he was called a communist," was a courageous act, Jackson said. No present day political advisor would have told Kennedy to support King, Jackson said, because it would upset the status quo.
"The struggle is about economic justice for American people," Jackson said. America's working classes provide the capital and labor that fuel the country, according to Jackson. But large corporations and the investment industry use this capital to invest in economic schemes that create more capital for the monied classes while draining the economic base of the poor.
Jackson urged people to think like "honeybees," about America's economic system. Honeybees buzz around and take nectar from flowers but they also deposit pollen, Jackson said, comparing America's slums to a flower. "Honey bees know if they don't come back" to deposit the pollen, "the flower will die." Money must be invested in slums or or they will die, according to Jackson. He described a slum as "any place without an adequate flow of capital."
Jackson proposed investing small percentages of public pension funds in housing, services and businesses in the inner city -- areas that need economic support. He also pushed for raising the minimum wage from it's current $3.35 per hour. "Most poor people in America work," Jackson said, but they have the lowest paying jobs. "They're not lazy, they work everyday," he said, but at minimum wage jobs as laborers, cooks, janitors, nursing aids, and clerical workers. Millions of American live in poverty, Jackson said, and the majority of them are women and children.