Rev. Jesse Jackson

The prominent civil rights activist and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition discusses the reparations fund for the survivors of Chicago Police torture, and other current events.

One of the nation's foremost political and civil rights activists, Jesse Jackson Sr. earned national notoriety as an assistant to Martin Luther King, Jr. during the '60s movement. He's the founder of the nonprofit Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, has written two books and co-authored two others. He's also a former presidential candidate, who maintains his involvement in the process, leading voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns, and has often been an unofficial U.S. envoy on diplomatic missions.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Reverend Jesse Jackson back to this program. The founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition has long been one of the nation’s foremost civil rights figures for decades now. Reverend Jackson has been deeply involved with the city of Chicago where he lives which recently created a $5.5 million Reparations Fund for the victims of police torture from 1972 through the early 1990s.

We’ll talk about that tonight and so much more, including the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Silicon Valley Digital Connections Initiative. But while I got you here, we’re going to run through a bunch of stuff tonight. Good to see you, Reverend.

Reverend Jesse Jackson: Good to see you, sir.

Tavis: Let me start with this Chicago Reparations Fund. Tell me what this is, how it came to be because there is–when you say the word reparations–people get all kind of skittish.

Jackson: Repair for some damage done over the last 10 years, $500 million. That money could have kept schools open and scholarships could have been on the agenda, a budget for reconstruction. Those young men been shot 16 times.

Rather than show the shooting, they only give the parents $5 million and not s how the film of the shooting. It’s just ugly. So when one looks at just the violence, guns and drugs and guns out, it’s a tragedy.

Tavis: What will this fund do and is it your sense that other cities being proactive since these uprisings and these police shootings continue to happen–I should say the police shootings and then the uprisings–is it your sense that other cities might take on this same kind of tack?

Jackson: Only to the extent that they feel that a combination of poverty and neglect and alienation is a fuel. The poverty is the fuel. A gunshot lights and it explodes. But there’s so much focus, Tavis, on police work and containment, no focus on investment and development.

And that’s my concern is that even in the Baltimore situation, the focus, of course, is on the police, the six police, and then the uprising. 18,000 vacant homes on abandoned lots.

Where’s the Secretary of HUD? No one said if you remove 9,000 of those vacant lots and abandoned homes, replace boards with window panes and fix caving roofs and remove lead paint, to create jobs, 80% of the police live outside of Baltimore from Virginia to New York.

So they come in as occupiers, not as residents. They spend their money outside. They buy their houses outside. They pay their taxes and their children get education outside. You got their attention. 35% unemployment.

Now where is the money? the TIF money is downtown on the river and the private equity investment and the pension funds and the bank lending and the subsidized stadium, the Orioles and the Ravens. So it is this predicament. There’s so much focus on the riot that there’s a daily constant perpetual riot of economic violations.

Tavis: Because you were just a young man at the time working with Dr. King when the Watts riots broke out and Detroit and Newark and, and, and, is there a primary difference or is there a through line to compare those riots then and these uprisings now?

Jackson: It is a fair comparison because invariably one poll of the Kerner Commission report. It says the dangers of having two societies, one essentially black and brown and poor, one white, one doing well and one doing not so well, that indication is a gap and that poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. And that the ignoring of poverty allows it to fuel and to fester, and never does pure poverty trigger a rebellion.

It’s always some oppressive, excessive force that humiliates. The humiliation on top of the poverty is what lights it. So what it is, Rodney King, or what it is, the Watts in the 60s, or what it is, Ferguson, or what it is, Sanford, Florida, or what is Baltimore?

Invariably, it is this police as container that triggers the explosion. And I say it’s a container because their job in Baltimore, well, things are quiet. Quietness is absence of noise. Peace is the presence of justice. There is no justice. There is no peace. There is no basis for peace as long as there’s injustice.

So I ask, if you lost 18,000 homes or abandoned lots, where is Secretary of HUD? Where is Secretary of Commerce Pritzer? Where is the head of the Small Business Administration? Some people can’t get to jobs. Where is the Department of Transportation? This is an opportunity to put forth an urban reconstruction plan, not just a police containment plan.

Tavis: Is that an indictment of the Obama administration? You’ve listed five of his Cabinet secretaries.

Jackson: It’s a challenge for the administration and of the country and of the Congress. For example, President Obama puts forth an affordable healthcare, right, which is poverty program in and of itself. Since they retook the state houses around the south, say, like South Carolina was 25% poverty will send back $10 billion in Medicaid, money rejected. Alabama, $10 billion.

Those in that 25% are veterans and women and children who can’t get breast cancer tests, who cannot get mammograms, who cannot get testicular tests. So the rejection, the resistance is a factor in this, but they are not funding HUD. EOC is not–when Eleanor Holmes Norton was in the White House, when Jimmy Carter was president, EOC was almost a Cabinet position.

Because it was so prominent when Reagan came in, he put Clarence Thomas to replace her to undermine the authority of it. They are so much underfunded, EOC, contract compliance, civil rights commission, these agencies have [inaudible] funded, but the Congress does the funding.

Tavis: When the history books are written on the Obama administration–since you said the administration in answer to my question–when the history books are written on this administration, will they say that Barack Obama as president was not bold enough or that he was obstructed too often?

Jackson: I would say obstructed. For example…

Tavis: Not both?

Jackson: Could be some combination. I will make this case. The first month he came in office, there were like 800,000 jobs lost. We’ve not lost a job a month in six years. So on one level, the economy is booming again. When we bailed out the banks, now [inaudible] are reinvesting in those whose homes got taken targeting two million blacks and browns.

And they were found guilty of race discrimination, but the fines were not as great as the money made, not the damage that they did as a case in point. On the other hand, the Affordable Healthcare Act got people who’ve never had an insurance policy before, who now for the first time, poor people have Medicaid.

And there are those who would say–I saw some people in Kentucky who said, well, we don’t want Obama. We want affordable healthcare because we like being until we’re 26, we like for the first time getting these various tests.

They want an omelet, but don’t want the egg. It’s just a lot of mean stuff going on. So I think there is a very violent head wind that’s undermining them. The fact is, many of these agencies are not funded anymore and Congress does the funding.

Tavis: What is your sense of the state or lack thereof of progressive politics? Bernie Sanders, of course, is running for the Democratic nomination, as you did in ’84 and ’88. But top-line for me the dire state of progressive politics in America.

Jackson: I don’t hear enough discussion about poverty. Dr. King’s last stage of our struggle–there’s so many first stages in slavery [inaudible] and the second stage in legal gen pro, the third stage, the right to vote. Having all of those victories, you still must have a job, an income, a floor beneath which no one falls. You must address the issue of acts at the Capitol, industry, technology and poverty.

There’s a fear of some sort dealing with the question of poverty because of the cost. Faith and hope don’t have budgets attached to them. It is the substance of things hoped for that matters. We were in Selma this past year and two things struck me about it, three things.

One, how many people who were not registered to vote. That struck me kind of odd. The second piece of it was focused on the voting rights that we won in ’65, not the one we lost in 2013 because Shelby trumped Selma by removing Section Four.

But the third one was that, while we celebrated what all that happened in Selma 50 years ago, Ms. Boynton who invited Dr. King to Selma, as Rosa Parks was the future in Montgomery, her house is not condemned.

Up and down the streets are toilets in the back yards. Dallas County is now 40% in poverty, 65% of the kids in poverty. So voting rights, as Lyndon Johnson would say, without economic reconstruction is fallow and that becomes today’s unfinished business issue of reviving a war on poverty that’s funded.

We cannot just join the status quo. We must change it. As Dr. King would say, leaders at their best don’t follow opinion polls. They mold them. The reason why we focus on Silicon Valley, for example, you know, we came north [inaudible] because of lynching came north.

The jobs, the automotive industry, now you got the most robust industry in the history of the earth, the high-tech industry and technology driven out of the Defense Department out of this industry. And, Tavis, the top 20 companies, 189 board members, 36 white women, three Blacks, one Latino in that Valley, the seat sweeps like 370, three Black and three Latino, employment around a steady 2%.

We’re over-indexing it–Apple, Google–we’re over-indexing in all of them and, as for startup investments, almost none. We have both the legal right to EOC in contract compliance and the economic leverage and the moral right to fight to change those conditions and we are.

Tavis: So what do you say to a company like Facebook meeting this week, in fact? I assume you’re headed up to Silicon Valley after you leave here?

Jackson: Indeed, I’m saying to them, because we have shares to get to the floor, you have an all-white board. You complain about an all-white country club at Augusta National Guard, but what about an all-white board? They’re replacing Donald Graham now with another white. So even through attrition, we’re not being allowed in. So fighting for racial justice…

Tavis: So Facebook has an all-white board?

Jackson: All-white board and Apple has an all-white board. And substantial others of them, most of them have all-white boards. But you know, the issue is not just the boards. That’s a highly credible, pivotal, visible position. But the EEO-1 reports, that’s where the real struggle came when we said, well, show us your EEO-1 reports.

They say, well, it’ll give us comparative disadvantage. They were embarrassed by the numbers. These companies, they have the liberal façade, no neckties and shoes and no socks, cool kind of guys. But at the end of the day, the patterns of exclusion are quite pronounced.

Tavis: Hillary Clinton’s going to raise a lot of money in that Valley where you’re going tomorrow, Silicon. If I can appropriate the language of my grandmother, is she the answer to the prayer in 2016?

Jackson: If we put the agenda and she reaches the bar, she will not inherit this position. She’ll have to fight for it. I first met her many years ago giving legal services for the poor. So I identify her very much with that. You recall doing that. She was on the board, the Children Defense Fund, for Marion Wright Edelman.

So her sensitivity to the poor while she’s driven to extreme heights, I think that that is a baseline that she represents of sensitivity. But I think that becomes our duty to raise the right question and create the right expectation because all the talk about faith and hope, faith is the substance of things hoped for.

Faith doesn’t have a budget. Hope doesn’t have a budget. The substance of things–I mean, we lost our middle class, lost $2 million affordable housing wiped out. That was a big hit. And when those houses went, poverty came in and tax base dropped. Now you can’t fund the schools. Chicago, man, 50 public schools closed, 50 drugstores…

Tavis: They didn’t close. They were closed.

Jackson: Were closed. 50 drugstores, 75 grocery stores, trauma units closed. One side of town, Inglewood and on that south side and on Austin, west side, you got 30% unemployment. On the north side, around 3% unemployment where the institutional infrastructure is, and the suburbs [inaudible].

But there is no plan. When you close public housing and foreclose private housing, you have homelessness. And, therefore, this issue of poverty and those locked out remains my obsession.

Tavis: I like Hillary just like you do, love Hillary, respect Hillary, and yet for some on certain issues, she is not progressive enough. For some, she is too hawkish on foreign policy. Your thoughts?

Jackson: I think those issues are up for discussion and I would be inclined to support her in part because there’s no alternative. But also in part, I think she had the capacity to hear people not just as a [inaudible]. I think she can hear people. I look at her and I look at guys who declare on the right wing that they will stand their ground against Medicaid for the poor.

In South Carolina, we have the prison labor force is rented out to private companies as in post-slavery when they will turn back $2 million education money and almost about to close South Carolina State. Now look at this right wing alternative. They’re trying to revive the Confederacy. It makes our glow get even brighter.

Tavis: How is she going to do this interesting dance to avoid the issues that Bill Clinton was wrong about during his presidency? And Bill Clinton did a lot of good, but there are things that we now know with hindsight that were mistakes. How will she–and we see this debate every day in the newspaper about how she’s going to do this dance to distance herself from stuff that she stood with her husband on then.

Jackson: I think she knows that the growth of the jail industrial complex under Bill Clinton was huge mistakes. Three strikes and you’re out sounded very good for some people as opposed to [inaudible]. We locked up thousands if not millions unnecessarily and built an industry around locking up people who in fact should have been–some are getting away or becoming criminals.

So she’ll have to make a great distance from that. And now that you have these privatized prisons, you have prisons for profit and prison labor and we’ve become addicted to the need for it.

So it’s going to be–but when you begin to move those people out of that, then where do those people go? And that’s where this whole issue of [inaudible]. And this issue in Iraq? We act as if the war started a few days ago. The first meeting President Bush had, Cabinet meeting, that meeting was how do we take Iraq back?

That was Colin Powell’s tension with the Bush forces. And we used it as a pretense, the war. We destroyed the civilization. My last conversation with Saddam Hussein, I went there to get the Americans out and [inaudible]. He said they’re itching to come in here and I can’t stop them from coming in. It’s easier to get in than to get out. Boy, was he telling the truth.

Tavis: There is a movie already controversial and Spike hadn’t even started filming yet. But there’s a movie that Spike Lee’s working on called “Chiraq”. And for those who haven’t heard about it, it’s Chicago and Iraq, Chiraq. And there are folk who even hate that term and what it suggests. Spike, again, hasn’t even started filming yet. What’s your take on this controversy?

Jackson: This weekend, 12 people killed, two injured? Chiraq. We lost more people in Chicago this weekend than we lost in Iraq.

So Spike is using his creativity. I just hope, in addition to showing the pain and the murders and the loss of children and the police alienation, that the context of it, out of this “Chiraq”, is coming a whole notion that, when we know where the guns are manufactured, we know where 70% of them who kill people and they become [inaudible] purchasers, we know there’s guns in, drugs in, jobs out.

So it’s not enough to show just the painful glamour of the shootings, but the context. There’s a remedy for this. We must revive a war on poverty and not just on the poor.

Tavis: All the best to you tomorrow at the Facebook board meeting, or shareholders meeting, I should say.

Jackson: Facebook scheduled tomorrow and Google next week. We’re not going to turn them loose because–by the way, I’m trying to get 1,000 churches to set up [inaudible] in their churches, so I’ll use them again to embrace stock market game and codes and apps. This is an industry we can capture based upon our creativity, but we must be introduced to it [inaudible] to do the introducing in Rainbow/PUSH.

Tavis: The founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Reverend Jesse Jackson. Good to see you, Reverend.

Jackson: Hey, Tavis? GotRevJackson, and follow me on Facebook [laugh].

Tavis: Oh, Lord, not you too [laugh]. Not you too. Jesse Jackson has gone social media [laugh].

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

[Walmart Sponsor Ad]

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: May 27, 2015 at 3:25 pm