February 16, 2010 - 5:53 PM
With the first "Can I get an amen?!" it really hit home that the Reverend Jesse Jackson was in the house. The Multicultural Center brought Jesse Jackson to campus to speak today, and it was a pretty special opportunity to be in the presence of such a prominent American icon. Whether you agree with the man's politics or not, he's definitely accomplished some amazing things in his 50+ years of working towards social justice: pursuing Civil Rights alongside Doctor King, forming the Rainbow Coalition, running for president, and helping Barack Obama get elected (to name a few).
The Reverend's commanding yet warm demeanor was evident from the instant he took the stage, raising his clenched fist above his head and the standing ovation in a sign of solidarity. It was a symbol that sent shivers down my spine. Reverend Jackson then soothed the crowd and began to speak earnestly about the history of Civil Rights, class struggle, and achievements through voting. Reverend Jackson then shifted the tone of his speech towards urging students to register to vote in Eugene so we can have more of a voice in local politics to advocate for change such as no-interest student loans. Reverend Jackson invoked his preacher-esque style with some "repeat-after-mes" to drive his message home.
Transitioning from student issues, Reverend Jackson then discussed partisan politics that are hurting Washington, Haiti relief, and the need to cooperate globally. His drive home messages were student empowerment through the vote, the need to work together globally regardless of race or religion, and to fight for justice for all Americans.
I agreed with the majority of Reverend Jackson's points, but I did take issue with his view that we need to work towards a globalized economy. Many view globalization as inevitable, but the recent economic collapse has shown that the U.S. economy is reliant on a global market, which is precarious. The U.S.'s economy is largely supported by the financial sector, and we are removed from actual production in many respects. If we want to be self-sustaining and environmentally sustainable we must transition away from global economics to local economics that are bioregionally appropriate. In other words, we need to focus on the essentials such as local, organic agriculture, reusable energies, green buildings, education, and health care. If these goods and services are contained on a local level, we will achieve self-sufficiency and wealth that is maintained on the local level, not dependent on so many unpredictable global patterns.
Nonetheless, Reverend Jackson did layout many points I agreed with regarding foreign aid, student empowerment, gay marriage (which he supports), and working towards equal rights for all. He concluded with a question and answer session in which he fielded questions about gay marriage and hate crimes with the poise of a compassionate, veteran activist. And finally, his concluding statement brought the entire crowd, myself included, to our feet: "You've got these people that hate the current administration for spending. But they've got their social security card in one pocket and their Medicare card in the other. And then they hop in their cash-for-clunker car, head down the interstate to pick up their unemployment check. But then they tell you they don't want "Big Government?"" His voice trailed off to a quick silence that was abruptly met with thundering applause. Reverend Jackson thanked the crowd and made his way offstage. It was quite an experience.