CHICAGO – The Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaking at the 36th annual conference of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, announced the beginning of a new inter-generational Civil Rights Movement with its first major action a march on the Justice Department in Washington September 13.
Jackson announced a major drive to increase voter registration and to address the disenfranchisement of individuals who have been released from jail. In light of the irregularities in the 2000 election, 40,000 minority votes were cast but not counted in Florida alone, Jackson said. The coalition will take on voting as a major civil rights issue. Jackson also touched on the fact that state and local governments will be the stage for many new civil rights battles. In addition, he called for a new effort to gain universal health care and a constitutional right to “high-quality education.”
Jackson, who is the founder and president of the coalition, told the 2,500 delegates the movement is to be broadly based and relevant to most progressive causes throughout society. The movement and the Sept. 13 march will address the need for fundamental solutions to the problems that plague our society and affect the working-class populations most strongly. The goals will be economic, political, international and cultural, highlighting issues like decent jobs with fair wages, the appointment of a balanced and impartial judiciary, a coherent and just foreign policy and the need for musical talent to control their own work.
The conference drew people from across the country, including union members and major musicians, as well as some foreign dignitaries from Nigeria.
In one major workshop, president of the NAACP Kweisi Mfume said, “We must go to the streets to fight them,” referring to the ultra-right. “They are working to destroy our civil rights.” He maintained that many academics and journalists are changing the definition of civil rights to suit their own hidden ultra-right agenda.
Mfume charged that many of these ultra-rightists are the same people who years ago were fighting against the original civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. “The current administration is made of people who in the past fought our attempts to bring about equality in society,” according to Mfume. The agenda of today’s civil rights movement is the same as it has always been, he said, “equal protection, election law reform, judicial reform and the protection of Title IX.”
National Organization of Women President Kim Gandy echoed the need for a new and reinvigorated civil rights movement. “Our children are why we fight,” said Gandy, mother of two young girls. She assailed the Bush administration scheme to slash welfare benefits to single mothers to pressure them to get married. “We must speak truth to power,” she said. “George Bush and his cronies are wrong when they say the solution to poverty among women is marriage. The solution to poverty is good jobs, decent wages and education.”
Gandy urged the crowd to join in the election struggles in 2002 and 2004. “We must vote like our lives depend on it, and our lives do,” she said. She pointed to the courts as the next great battlefield because many courts, including our nation’s highest, have been filled with the ultra-right conservatives. Gandy warned that the affirmative action victory at the University of Michigan will probably be reviewed by the Supreme Court later this year.
“The greed for capital has outstripped the greed of nations, hurting labor and threatening civil rights,” Jackson said in his address. The crisis, he said, “is caused by the extreme concentration of capital. Workers are the big losers. Workers must fight back … collective bargaining is a human right.”
The current economic downturn is inflamed by the methods of “legalized thievery” such as off-shore accounts Jackson added.
Former President Bill Clinton also spoke at the conference, calling for an improvement in the world’s approach to the AIDS crisis in Africa.
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