February 2007 Interview: Jesse Jackson

Download the interview in mp3 format

Intro:

Jesse Jackson is a politician, civil rights activist, hostage negotiator, Baptist minister, you name it, Jesse’s done it. A graduate of North Carolina A&T, Jesse went on earn his masters in divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. A former right hand of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Jackson went on to found his own civil rights organizations, Operation PUSH and the Rainbow Coalition. And for those of yall getting hype about Barak Obama, Jesse Jackson was doing this back in 1984 as the first Black man to run for president (*on the democratic ticket). Now, I’d like to thank Syracuse University’s African American male congress for setting this interview up – appreciate that, brothers. And without further adieu, it’s Black History Month: Reverend Jesse Jackson, yall.

Pierce Freelon:
One of the things I hear a lot, not only from my peers (but) from a lot of the younger and older people is that the system is corrupt, and this that and the third. And I was wondering what should I tell or what would you tell these young people when we’re out there trying to register voters. Why this is an important thing?

Jesse Jackson:
The vote, like money, is valuable, therefore people always try to steal it. We must fight to keep it. You can’t work all week long and get your paycheck and someone steals it and say therefore I’m not going to work. Don’t stop working, stop the robber. So the vote is valuable. The vote determines whether you go to college or whether go to jail, determines who’s president, commander in chief, senators, congressmen and so because it is powerful there are struggles to disenfranchise it. For African Americans we were denied the vote for 346 years. We’ve just had the right to vote since 1965, 41 years. It’s been a struggle to protect the strength of the franchise. But it’s a struggle we can win. If we can win the 246 of slavery in absolute denial, if we can overcome 100 years of Jim Crow denial, we surely can overcome the attempts at electronic stealing and manipulations that are taking place now. What we fight now is duck soup compared to the bloody battles of the right to vote. So people must go into the voting booth with determination. I will vote and I will fight for my vote to count.

PF:
Okay. So, voting being very important for you, the first African American man to run for president (*on the democratic ticket). What are your thoughts on Barack Obama in (2008), with his campaign and the potential. How is that different from when you ran?

JJ:
Well there’s always a novel attraction of the idea that a woman or a black will run for presidency. Because we’ve been qualified for so long and at some point in time, we will break through. After many knocks at the door, at some point the door will open. Whether it is Barack Obama or Harold Ford or Jesse Jackson Jr. or Shirley Franklin; they are qualified Blacks. But you must have, in addition to being qualified, there’s a certain will and the risk to run. Because once you run you meet stiff resistance. And so he has the preparation, the timing, the content, but now whether he has the will to engage in combat is a very personal choice he must make. And if he makes it, I’m sure he’ll do well but that becomes a very personal choice because the risk is great. The reward is great but the risk is great.

PF:
Alright, this is my last question, thank you so much, I really appreciate your time. Over the past two decades you’ve been to Syria, Lebanon, Cuba, doing work on releasing hostages and political prisoners. If you listen to (our) interview with Angela Davis, she talked about political prisoners that were prisoners of the United States government. So I wanted to ask what or how do we go about negotiating the release of political prisoners held by the United States government, just if you could talk a little bit about that.

JJ:
Well, the politics of the prison industrial complex here is massive. In every southern state from Virginia, southern Maryland around to Texas. It is the single largest industry, the whole industrial complex for profit. In most of those southern states once you’ve been convicted, served your time, you cannot vote again. That must become one of the great civil rights struggles of our time, restoring the right to vote. In that way you emancipate many who have been released from jail but still have shackles on. But that means that the civil right struggle can never be spoken of in past tense. Struggle for civil rights, civil protection is a continuous struggle and requires eternal vigilance.

PF:
Yo, thank you so much Reverend Jesse Jackson, it’s been a pleasure.

JJ:
You the man, you the man.

PF:
Thanks a lot.

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