Waking Jesse Jackson

Our knee-jerk reaction every time the Rev. Jesse Jackson opens his mouth is, “Oh no, not again.” We know it’s unfair, we know it’s jaded, but we have the same reaction when our friend’s child practices his trombone scales in the living room the umpteenth time. Sure we like him, but….

This time, Jackson was talking about his “Save the Dream” march through the South, which takes place this week. He wanted to make sure the word got out to the Jewish press, so we called him at his hotel room in Chicago. At first, he sounded very, very tired. “We’re determined to keep the dream alive, to heal the breach, to leave no American behind,” he said.

The march will touch down at the monuments of the Civil Rights movement: the Rainbow Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot; Jackson, Miss., down whose streets King led civil rights marchers; and Philadelphia, Miss., where James Chaney and Jewish civil rights activists Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were murdered. Members of Schwerner’s and Goodman’s families will speak alongside Jackson, as will Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. “This is a great monument to the soul of our civil rights struggle, when we spilled common blood and shared common graves,” said Jackson. “These are irrevocable bonds, and we must build on them.”

The 2000 elections are approaching, and Jackson hopes to register thousands of black voters as the march progresses through the heart of Sen. Trent Lott’s home state. “Race is a diversion from the real gap,” in America today, Jackson said. That gap is between the rich, who seem to be making unlimited income in today’s economy, and the poor, most of whom are white, who face poverty without the certainty of welfare, social security and health care. Or, as Jackson put it: “The wealthy have no roof above them, and the poor have no floor beneath them.” In such dire economic times, said Jackson, Jews, blacks and gays become scapegoats.

By this time in the conversation, he was revved up and wide awake…and we were right there with him. Never mind that many economists — and Jackson’s friend, the president — give a much more positive spin on the income gap. We were about ready to cash in our frequent-flier miles for a trip to the Rainbow Motel. Say what you will, but that man can talk. If you’re interested in knowing more about the march, call (202) 333-5270. — Rob Eshman, Managing Editor