By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Weekly Commentary | Chicago Sun-Times
Clouds and tempests mark the dawn of 2014. The economy is recovering, we are told, but the people aren’t. Over 20 million people are still in need of full-time work. America, the land of opportunity, now is scarred by more extreme inequality and less mobility than other industrial nations. More of our children grow up in poverty, and we do a worse job of offering them a helping hand up. Gun violence continues to terrorize both mean streets and schools thought to be secure.
Yes, there is much to be thankful for. The wars abroad are drawing down, and we avoided sending soldiers into the calamity in Syria. Slow growth continues to generate new jobs. In states and localities across the country, people are voting to raise the minimum wage. Millions will finally have health care coverage this year that were unable to get it in the past. Children, family, faith and community provide joy and reward.
But the harsh reality of these times is expressed by the fact that 1.3 million Americans who are looking for work will be cut off of jobless benefits in January, because Congress chose not to extend them. At a time when long-term unemployment is at record levels, when too many are looking for too few jobs, this callous act is literally unconscionable.
In the wake of World War I, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote “The Second Coming,” which decried a time when “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
This is a similar time. A Republican Party cowed by the “passionate intensity” of its far right ties Washington in knots. They openly scorn the government that they were elected to make work. They fight against asking the rich or the multinationals to pay one cent more in taxes, while slashing spending on programs for the most vulnerable. Across the country, the “passionate intensity” and money of the National Rifle Association blocks any progress on reasonable gun laws.
Congressional Democrats claim to stand for working people. The president calls inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” But too often people of good will “lack all conviction.” Democrats decry the termination of jobless benefits, but they do not fight to extend them.
This will not change at the top. Change won’t come from Washington out. It will only change if citizens of conscience express the “passionate intensity” that now is missing.
We see stirrings in that direction. Pope Francis warns of the “globalization of indifference” and calls for a church “which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy for being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
Writing from his jail cell in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King similarly challenged his “fellow clergymen” to stand on the side of justice, rather than remaining “more cautious than courageous,” and remaining “silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”
We are reaching that time again. Washington is tied in knots. Powerful special interests have rigged the rules to serve themselves. They have enlisted the tea party right to oppose any progress. The resulting injustice will only be addressed if people of conscience join with working people to demand a fair deal. It is time to march.
As we make our resolutions for 2014, consider making that one of them. Let’s resolve to demonstrate more “passionate intensity” for justice than those who stand in the way of the changes that we so desperately need. Happy New Year, everyone.