The Real Fight Takes Place at the Polls
The urgency of now keeps Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on the road.
“There is a lot of unfinished business,” Rev. Jackson says. “American democracy is under attack by a counter-cultural revolution in Washington. Everything we’ve fought for is in peril.”
Last week, he concluded a five-day, 800-mile, 21-stop tour across the important swing-state of Virginia, doing what he has done for most of his life: recruiting nonviolent citizen-soldiers to “redeem the soul of America.”
Everywhere Rev. Jackson went on his “Healing and Rebuilding” non-partisan voter registration tour – churches, community centers, rural medical clinics and college campuses – he was warmly greeted by enthusiastic crowds, like the 350 students and staff at Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA., who gave him a standing ovation and loudly repeated his signature declaration of affirmation, “I am somebody.”
Along the way, Rev. Jackson registered scores of new voters in time for Virginia’s Nov. 7 gubernatorial election, a contest widely seen as a bellwether of the crucial 2018 midterm elections and President Trump’s political future.
“The stakes are sky high,” Rev. Jackson says. “Those who denied us the right to vote for so long now seek to nullify our vote with voter suppression schemes. Voter suppression of the black vote is what turned the 2016 presidential election.”
His trek across the Virginia commonwealth, Rev. Jackson says, was “a journey of faith,” inspired, in no small measure, by the life and death of Heather Heyer, the anti-racist demonstrator killed in August during a Charlottesville rally of Klansmen and neo-Nazis.
“What happened in Charlottesville is a wake-up call,” Rev. Jackson told the students at a crowded lecture hall at Norfolk State University in Norfolk. “Our society has become too angry, too hateful, too violent and too bitter.”
But the students, he said, should not respond with “violence and bitterness and meanness” even in the face of an “audacious growth of hate.” The students have a much more powerful weapon at their disposal. Rev. Jackson said, “The crown jewel of our democracy” – the vote.
“Whether we build more jails or more schools, that’s a political decision,” he said. “That’s why we have to vote. The real fight takes place on Nov. 7 at the polls.”
At Virginia University of Lynchburg, Rev. Jackson urged the students to avoid cynicism and despair. “We cannot surrender,” he said, adding to stay home on Election Day was tantamount to “voting for the Klan.”
“We intend to remember in November,” he said. “That’s the way to fight back.”
The tour was sponsored by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia Conference of the NAACP, the New Virginia Majority and The Gary Flowers radio show.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states holding gubernatorial elections in 2017. Rev. Jackson will be in New Jersey this week to register people to vote.
Rev. Jackson told his audiences at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Hampton University in Hampton, Friendship Baptist Church in Hopewell, the Lackey Free Clinic in Yorktown and at 17 other stops from Roanoke to Emporia to Arlington that the fight includes the fate of student loan debt relief, automatic voter registration legislation, the expansion of affordable health care and the triumph of science over superstition.
“We must take a renewed look at climate change,” he says. “We must choose science over superstition.”
Dozens of students – black, white and brown – answered Rev. Jackson’s call Monday to “come on down” and register to vote during the tour stop at Roanoke College on September 18. Olivia Camillo, a 19-year-old Roanoke sophomore from Atlanta, said she registered after being moved by Rev. Jackson’s words about the power of the vote to transform the country and as an antidote to the hate and murderous racism on display in nearby Charlottesville in August.
“I really liked what Rev. Jackson said about how ‘We should look through a door and not a keyhole,’” she said. “A lot of people are really near sighted and don’t see the future.”
Rev. Jackson was accompanied to Roanoke College by State Delegate Sam Rasoul who described their visit as a “black Baptist preacher and a Muslim legislator walk into a Lutheran college to talk about inclusion.”
Bringing people together across lines of race, class and faith is the best way to heal and rebuild the nation was a major part of Rev. Jackson’s message as he traveled the commonwealth.
“If lions and lambs can learn to live together,” as the Bible says, “then black and white can,” Rev. Jackson told a packed auditorium at Randolph College.
“That’s right, sir,” a woman in the audience called out.
“We must learn to co-exist and not co-annihilate,” he said.
A few minutes later, a couple dozen students made their way to the front of the auditorium to register to vote.