CHICAGO – On April 8, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), an energetic and idealistic young man, spoke of his vision for America to a small crowd in a basement auditorium of a public library on the South Side here. Jackson demanded a shift in our country’s priorities at a Peace and Jobs Community Forum.

Although his speech was billed to address his proposal for a National High Speed Rail Network (NHSRN) across all contiguous 48 states, in addition to ten new airports, his topic was much larger in scope. He pledged to “fight in Congress for human rights even if he has to fight [both] the Democratic Party and Republican Party.”

“We need to build a national consensus for human needs,” Jackson proclaimed. These needs, according to the Congressman, ought to be included as rights in the Constitution. His plan for a NHSRN would address one of these needs – jobs. Jobs, he says, which would be produced for American steelworkers, construction workers and operators. Jackson is currently drafting legislation to introduce this massive project.

Rep. Jackson argues that despite conservatives’ claims that there is not the money for projects like a NHSRN or the badly needed national repair and modernization of our nation’s schools, both of which would cost over $300 billion each, the money can and must be found.

He is also introducing eight new amendments to the Constitution to guarantee every American the rights of a job, high quality education, affordable housing, comprehensive health care, a safe environment and voting rights, which are outlined in his new book, A More Perfect Union: Advancing New American Rights.

After the Congressman’s address, community activists spoke about the need to end the recently proclaimed but never officially declared war on terrorism. Activists also spoke of the growing needs of economic and health care reforms domestically. Apolinar Quiroz, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 2154, said that the thousands of steelworkers, who have lost their jobs as plants close, can’t wait.

Bernice Bild, co-chair of the Committee for New Priorities of Jobs with Justice, blasted the huge increase proposed for the new already swollen military budget, and called for support of Jackson and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), both of whom are opposing the military budget increase.

Peace activist Lorraine Ashby and Coalition of Labor Union Women leader Katie Jordan co-chaired the evening’s event.

Bea Lumpkin contributed to this article.

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