Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. has been an advocate since his high school freshman days when he, among the Greenville Eight, protested segregated library practices. As a student at North Carolina A&T State University, he was part of the actions to integrate the city, involved with the phenomenal Bennett Belles who were the backbone of that movement. As an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he was the onion who raised hell, caused trouble, and moved the economic justice agenda. As a Presidential candidate in 1984, he was the man who stood firmly in the constitution, asserting his right to run. In 1988, he cleared hurdles as a candidate, earning majority votes from states where African Americans were a minority. He has made history.
To be sure, Rev. Jackson's climb has not always been smooth. There have been missteps, foibles, and unfortunate words. Rev. Jackson is human, as we all are. In 1984, as part of his remarks at the San Francisco Democratic Convention he declared, "God is not finished with me yet." A seasoned citizen-leader, and still a work in progress; he prevails, with courage and confidence, in ways that inspire us all.
I am writing after spending some days last week during the Rainbow/PUSH annual conference, after some days of reflection on the ways that Rev. Jackson and his team connected the dots in the deliberate erosion of our public space, of the public sector, whether it is in education, civil rights, BP cleanup, or other matters. It is interesting to watch Rev. Jackson thread the needle and put all of the work together, gathering leaders who are interested in disparate issues, connecting their work into an overarching theme.
One of the best sessions that I participated in was keynoted by Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education to Lamar Alexander between 1991 and 1993. She was associated with the federal effort to promote academic standards, but now she says she had no clue that her efforts would lead to the relentless testing and absurdity connect with "No Child Left Behind". Ravitch was masterful as she discussed the many ways so-called education advocates are really about dismantling federal involvement in education. And we know that there are advocates that simply want to shrink government and let the "market" work.
Here's how the market works. BP spews a million barrels of oil onto the Gulf of Mexico because our nation has not appropriately regulated them. They've had more than 700 safety complaints in just three years, compared to Exxon Mobil's one. Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats have been anti-regulation, hoping that markets work. But they haven't. They've set up this tragedy.
The brilliance of the Rev. Jesse Jackson is that he connected failure in the Gulf of Mexico with failure in our nation's schools. In other words, the whole notion that regulation, that government intervention is bad, is being challenged. There is no magic dust in free market charter schools any more than there is magic dust in free polluting rules for international oil polluters. Rev. Jackson connects the dots because he is able to see the big picture, the writing on the wall, the work that must be done.
Those who retreat from federal intervention into markets expect things to resolve themselves magically. Yet last week, the United States senate rejected legislation that would extend unemployment insurance payment to those who do not have work. They say that they are interested in a "pay as you go" system, a system they had not figured out when they decided to just give banks $700 billion. Now, a modest bill that would spend about $25 billion for jobs and unemployment insurance has failed. The House of Representatives did their work months ago, but the senate has decided that they have no constituents or caring. Instead, they want to lean on this notion of short-term pay as you go, not long-term economic sustainability.
When we invest in workers, we invest in a stable workforce. We invest in long-term tax payments. We invest in workers who invest in community. To be sure, we spend some short-term money. That's the nature of economic recovery. Instead of half-stepping, why not revive a Work Progress Administration, a real jobs plan. Why not engage young people, who face an unemployment rate that flirts at 40 percent, in infrastructure repair? Why not open libraries for more hours? Why not revive, not reject the public sector?
At his conference, Rev. Jesse Jackson was always ready to connect the dots between attacks on the public sector and the diminishment of our quality of life. Conference attendance confirmed his perspective. Who can attract Gulf fishermen, a former assistant Secretary of Education, several Congressional Representatives, Senator Roland Burris, and others, and then tell a coherent story about why they are all gathered? Rev. Jesse Jackson began connecting dots when, as one of the Greenville Eight, he chafed at waiting for six days to get library books from the "white" library. Today he reminds us that we still have work to do, and we applaud him for his fealty and tenacity.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women