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October 4 , 2004
Jackson urges votes in Glenn appearance
BY Eric Rangus
Not many guest speakers merit an encore, but Jesse Jackson is not the average
He received a standing ovation following his speech in Glenn Auditorium, Tuesday night, Sept. 28, and as the crowd began to head for the aisles, Jackson called for them to stop. “Don’t go anywhere yet,” he said. The several hundred in attendance returned to their seats.
“How many of you are not registered to vote here in Atlanta, where you live?” he asked. Much of Jackson’s speech, “Activism and the College Student,” had been devoted to the importance of voting—not only voting in general, but voting locally, instead of by absentee. About half the crowd stood up.
What followed was an impromptu voter registration session as Jackson called the students up to the stage to register—about 40 of them did. As this was going on, he encouraged everyone in attendance to repeat after him: “Students honor the law of voting on campus. Easy access is the law. We are a community of interest. We will vote on issues of the economy, war and peace, and we will be heard.”
Jackson may have wrapped up his appearance with a fiery call to action, but he began it rather sedately. He started with a history lesson. Returning to the image and phrase, “promise of a more perfect union,” Jackson used race relations as his centerpiece and spoke of how a history of inequality between black and white has always left the country short of that perfection.
“July 4, 1776, had no meaning to the enslaved,” Jackson said, his voice a flat monotone. He used that monotone for the first 12 minutes of his speech, never raising his voice or altering his pace, even when he personalized the difficulties of being a minority.
“I was arrested in 1960 for trying to use the public library,” he said, during a segment on the nearly 100 years of American “apartheid” between the end of the Civil War and the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Slowly, he heated up and finally boiled over when he tied the promise of a more perfect union and race together. “You broke the promise,” he bellowed, his voice echoing through Glenn. He repeated it several times, calling out the federal and state governments. From that point on, Jackson’s voice ranged from a whisper to a shout as he called on young people to take action and change the world around them.
A native of Greenville, S.C., Jackson has been an activist for nearly 40 years. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1965 after graduating from North Carolina A&T State. In 1971, he founded Operation PUSH, which aimed to bring economic empowerment to the disadvantaged in Chicago. In 1984, he founded the Rainbow Coalition, a social justice organization. The two merged in 1996. For the last three decades he has been a passionate advocate for social action. His appearance at Glenn was sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
A two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, he wasn’t shy about criticizing the Bush administration and the actions of the president. Jackson lambasted policies he said have left more than a million Georgians without health insurance and 20 percent of African Americans in Atlanta without a job. He also blasted Bush about the administration’s policies on Iraq.
“Dan Rather had a bad source and he rushed on camera to apologize,” Jackson said, referring to a recent controversy where CBS News used unverified documents to make a case that Bush did not fulfill his National Guard responsibilities during the Vietnam War. “Bush had bad sources—the CIA, [Ahmed] Chalabi, who is on our payroll. At least Dan Rather apologized; Bush says, ‘Bring them on.’”
Change, Jackson said, is in the hands of those in attendance. “Your generation must address the issues of the day—war or peace,” he said. “You have the choice.”
Jackson concluded with his encouragement to vote. Civil rights worker Medgar Evers died trying to give blacks that right, he said. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison because he wanted voting rights for all South Africans. “You are the answer to yesterday’s prayer,” he said. “You have the power to turn the course of our country.”
Jackson’s call for voter registration was not an empty gesture. Several times during his address, he challenged Emory students to demand a polling place on campus. While students were registering, Janice Mathis, Atlanta bureau chief for Rainbow-PUSH, appeared on stage and Jackson asked her to contact the county clerk of DeKalb County to see about adding a polling place at Emory.
Jackson also may have created a branch of Rainbow-PUSH on campus. To no one in particular, he asked aloud when a good meeting time would be. The answer was Thursday at 7 p.m. He then asked for a meeting place. “Harland Cinema” was the reply (the meeting actually was held in 363 Dobbs Center). Jackson said he’d make sure a Rainbow-PUSH representative could attend the meeting.