Jesse Jackson visits campus with a message of ‘hope’

by Michelle Kibiger

It was like an old-time revival meeting, complete with an altar call. Only this time the converts were unregistered voters, and the preacher was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson stopped by Coffman Memorial Union Thursday as part of his Midwest tour to promote his voter registration drive, “Keep Hope Alive on Nov. 5.”
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people attended Jackson’s speech held in the Coffman Union Great Hall. Jackson ran for U.S. president in 1984 and 1988. He currently serves as one of President Clinton’s campaign advisors. Jackson is also the founder and president of the Rainbow Coalition, an advocacy group for minority issues.
Jackson said America’s salvation lies in the votes of the younger generation.
“You right here in Minnesota have got to use that vote this day to change the course of America for the better,” Jackson said. “You have that power.”
Before coming to Minnesota, Jackson made appearances in Chicago, Ill.; Des Moines, Iowa; Ames, Iowa; and Omaha, Neb. After his speech at the University, Jackson traveled to Madison, Wis.
Jackson addressed issues that are at the forefront of this year’s presidential campaign, such as Medicare, day care, welfare, financial aid and education. He said people’s stands on these issues reflect their characters.
“How you respond to a hurting person is a sign of your character,” Jackson said. “You want day care and Medicare; you can do something about it.”
Jackson, a Baptist minister, sprinkled his speech with biblical metaphors like the story of how the good Samaritan stopped to help someone of a different race.
“What makes America different, better, great?” Jackson said. “It’s the idea that Americans are under one big tent. And under that tent, equal protection under the law.”
Jackson emphasized the younger generation’s responsibility to ensure America takes care of its citizens. “As some fought to gain the rights, someone must fight to protect the rights,” he said.
Affirmative action, Jackson said, is one of those rights. He said that contrary to the popular belief that welfare mainly helps minorities, a larger number of white than minority women with children depend on it. He said affirmative action has helped women gain ground in the work force and support their families.
“It’s about women and people of color. It’s a majority issue, not a minority issue,” Jackson said.
He said conservative leaders are casting an inappropriate light on issues like affirmative action and welfare.
“I don’t know why they see affirmative action as a threat and not an asset,” Jackson said. “Don’t let them put a black mask over the face of poverty. When they whiten the face of poverty and desensitize the image of affirmative action, they lessen the sting of the bigots.”
Jackson said students have an even greater stake in the upcoming presidential election because Bob Dole has said he would cut financial aid and the Department of Education.
Jackson concluded his speech by giving the audience a “test.” He asked each student to stand if they had not registered to vote.
“Don’t lie,” Jackson said as he laughed. “Y’all come down here right now, I’m gonna register you right now.” About 100 unregistered voters streamed down the aisle.
“You must be of the dreaming sort, but today dreamers are under attack. If you vote your hopes and not your fears, then we’ll win this election,” Jackson said.