Civil rights activist, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., traced the history of the civil rights movement in America, endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement, called on a renewal of the war on poverty and stated America has become too violent in a wide-ranging speech at the University of Nebraska.
Jackson was the keynote speaker for the Black Leadership Symposium held on the Lincoln campus. After the speech, Jackson visited with those participating in Occupy Lincoln on the Centennial Mall.
In recalling the history of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, Jackson ran a thread through various civil rights activities to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Jackson asserted that Obama could not have been elected the first black president of the United States without the groundbreaking civil rights movement earlier.
Jackson called Obama’s election a redemptive moment in American history that said much about the best of America. But Jackson followed with a warning; that some are trying to destroy what took years to build.
“For some it was a moment of hope, for others it was a moment of fear and reaction,” Jackson stated, adding that for those who feared Obama’s election they have become willing to “sink the ship just to destroy the captain.”
Jackson, a Democrat, accused Congressional Republicans of negotiating with the White House in bad faith, claiming they begin negotiations on the premise of wanting to ruin Obama’s presidency and desiring to protect the rich.
The gap between rich and poor continues to widen, according to Jackson, who rattled off statistics to back his point, such as 50 million Americans in poverty and 25 million unemployed. Yet, he said other worries have been to traditional concerns of poverty, such as mounting debt. Jackson stated that college students graduate with guaranteed debt, yet without a guaranteed job.
“If we can forgive debt for nations, let’s forgive student loans and unleash American energy now,” Jackson said to applause from the students.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, according to Jackson, simply draws attention to the growing gap between those in power and those on the outside.
Jackson criticized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and said that while we fight abroad against weapons of mass destruction we ignore the fact that Americans can legally buy AK-47 assault rifles, which he categorized as WMDs.
Jackson, a Baptist preacher, spoke of Jesus’ ministry and mentioned acts of bravery by both white and black Americans to intervene and stop violence as he wrapped up his talk. Jackson stated that beyond color, beyond culture is something called character which he urged the students to embrace.