“I am not a perfect servant but a public servant.” -Jesse Jackson, Democratic Convention 1984
“Fuck yourself” -Dick Cheney to Senator Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), On the floor of the Senate June 23, 2004.
This past Monday, at around 1:33pm, I began researching a piece. It was about how we, the Black public at large, have allowed the Neo-con Right to marginalize the great leaders of the civil rights cause. How they have encapsulated them in a rebound of pseudo White guilt backlash. How they have labeled them as charlatans and race baiters who only know how to play the “race” card.
As if the race issue has been solved and Jena happened 50 years ago.
I was going to focus the piece, almost entirely, on Johnny Cochran and Jesse Jackson. This is the truth. Then a collective sigh came from the ranks of Black America. I might’ve been a lil’ hasty.
OF LIONS AND SUCH
In a Pride of Lions the leading male is almost always usurped. He battles and puts up a ferocious fight only to be discharged when his strength is worn away. He is replaced…but not without exacting a price. Not without levying some vicious reminders of what he once was and the strength needed to claim his mantle.
However, sometimes the decline of a Lion ends with a simple and sad walk of confusion. No roar heard over the horizon or thunderous slashes with powerful claws. Just small empty steps…away from the Pride…into the tall grass.
You are a real life hero. Dr. King. Marches. I know about your challenges to build a following. In fact, somewhere in the atmosphere, is a picture of a 7 year old boy, in powder blue polyester 3 piece suit, standing next to a very hip Reverend Jesse Jackson in a brown Safari Leisure number at a rally…grinning ear to ear.
You placed third in both the Democratic Primaries and Convention votes in 1984. You also placed SECOND in the 1988 Democratic primaries and the Convention.
(that year I met you for a second time at Mr. Danny Bakewell’s house).
Despite all of the hype for Senator Obama, Jesse Jackson was truly on a path for the White House 20 years ago. And he spoke out while on that path. For unions and civil rights. For women and low wage earners. For young people without the vote and old folk without a voice.
Your words beat heavy around the nation and later, the globe.
You spoke against Apartheid at great risk.
You secured the freedom of a downed American bomber pilot in Syria.
You secured the freedom of Americans from Castro’s Cuba.
You secured the freedom of American POWs from Kosovo, while Clinton still bombed.
Yes you are a hero and, although by this publication you will have apologized, I am still going to submit my disappointment regarding your actions.
Because it wasn’t enough. Because the standard you set WAS and IS so high. And because Senator Obama is running for the President of the United States not county tree trimmer. If you, if we, don’t start thinking of him as that, what respect would the world offer him?
Keith Olbermann tried his best. He said that usually news organizations don’t air such conversations hinting, of course, to FOX’s unprofessionalism. However there was another professional in the room. You. Since your prominence back in the day you’ve been mic’d. You’ve had TV shows, a radio show and have been mic’d up more than probably any living politician. Thus, casually talking while mic’d would be, for you, as unnatural as the Democrats impeaching Bush.
Now I don’t believe it’s about you trying to sabotage anything but maybe your familiarity with the biz can reveal evidence of you trying to wedge your way in.
Was that it? Were you trying to lob the equivalent of an e-mail blast that would be sure to grab headlines, attention and a response from the Senator from Illinois?
If not, then what was it?
Who says “cut his nuts off” but a 1960’s mobster?
We tested it out. It doesn’t fall squarely into any of the insult laden rants you can find during a basketball game or on any given street corner past 10pm. I said it on stage and just got blank stares. Where in the hell did it come from Mr. Jackson? Why?
Why those words from a man who, well past the “oops” ages of his early 20’s, has a child out of wedlock which then makes the rant against Senator Obama’s speech at worst hypocritical and at best…ironic. Even still, the ramp-up doesn’t answer the question. You have a right to be mad with Senator Obama. I’ve blown my stack many of times…and wouldn’t say nuthin’ if you got all up in his face. But…Cut his nuts off sir? These are the things which put you into the shallows of the public mind. Not your attackers but these self inflicted stoops into pettiness. The kind which would have even your most ardent followers shake their heads once more and say,
“There he goes again.”
As if it’s to be expected.
But it is not all on you. Not directly. For decades you have been the only game (read: TARGET) in town and we have been unforgiving. When an issue pops up and you aren’t on it right away we call you ineffective; like the vote in California to curb Affirmative Action throughout the UC system. When you do arrive and speak into mics we call you a panderer. Seems as though we’ve forgotten what to do with you as well.
Many who were “outraged” can’t even recall your contributions which have faded and worn at the edges in time. Not to mention the sheer volume of issues (some which were not worthy of your presence) and appearances which somehow seem to blur together like one long giant rhyming rally. Wouldn’t it be beautiful sir, if you were a victim of your own success?...
…if we had achieved so much that your words during the Democratic Convention in San Francisco in 1984 were lost to the reality of better days?
"Our time has come. Our time has come. Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end, faith will not disappoint. Our time has come. Our faith, hope, and dreams will prevail. Our time has come. Weeping has endured for nights, but now joy cometh in the morning. Our time has come. No grave can hold our body down. Our time has come. No lie can live forever. Our time has come. We must leave racial battle ground and come to economic common ground and moral higher ground. America, our time has come. We come from disgrace to amazing grace. Our time has come. Give me your tired, give me your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free and come November, there will be a change because our time has come..."
A standing ovation.
My God, sir, it was the greatest thing I had ever seen a Black man do.
The truth is we haven’t done so well. Things seemed to have just shifted. We represent a disproportionate percentage of inmates across the land. We are falling behind in scholastic achievement with college numbers dropping almost exponentially which insures more inmates. There is real tension between our “new” neighbors; the Latin voice. And the coming economic storm seems to be stressing us right now.
But in that speech you also stated,
“If, in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste, or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived someone's fears, that was not my truest self. If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart. My head -- so limited in its finitude; my heart, which is boundless in its love for the human family. I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient: God is not finished with me yet.”
You’re a man of peace. You’ve changed the world. Mr. Jackson you’re a giant and none of the 6 inch short snipes from Bill O’Reilly should matter…and wouldn’t except for openings like these. For I, unlike many of my friends, believe that you are still needed. But we need you to roar, sir.
Do not simply let it all cool down. You should yell and then score it with the frustration of today. Do not discount calling Senator Obama a nigga (if you did) but bow your head in submission and then lay into the allusions of Osama/Obama as presented by the GOP.
Do it in a way which we can “internalized” this issue; A way which leads back to your days when Black leaders couldn’t be no punks and the thought of criticizing Black Men without enumerating the causes and solutions for negative actions was considered chicken-shit. That’s where this all came from. The clash of styles. An angry rant followed by, common language. If there is arrogance on your part, it’s believing that anyone would forget that you are a civil rights leader and that Senator Barack Obama is a politician who has been, right now, protecting his Right flank.
Jesse, Obama & Jesse Jr.
And that hurts because you helped build the road he is now taking to the Presidency and part of his campaign has been to distance that campaign from your legacy. Yet, that’s what politics is and, judging from this episode, he made the right choice. But you are not a villain as the right would have the nation believe. You are not a puppet master or manipulator. You are not Dick Cheney. Right now you are more like Senator Obama’s Bill Clinton. Unfortunately half of politics is controlling the message and you have made it impossible for that campaign to do so with you involved. So we don’t need you there. Alongside Senator Obama. Here’s where we need you:
Right here, juxtaposing your anger and frustration not just against the Senator’s comments but against Liberals of the latest New Yorker Magazine cover who need to control the Liberal agenda and are, themselves, “right flanking” it. How cool would a cover of nearby Connecticut’s used-to-be-democrat-come-indepublican Lieberman be as Hitler? With a burning Flag and his wife as…Tojo?
By calling the Senator nigga and wanting to cut his nuts you have removed yourself from the game. These are the moments when we suffer from a “wisdom gap” in organizing and consolidating power. This is where we still need you. However, your place in the progressive pantheon comes at a price. You have to learn to sit down more often than you want to and, well…it has been too long Mr. Jackson. It is time for you to begin to enable successors with your proxy. To protect you and translate today’s public voice. Maybe it’s your son. He is very much in the game despite the fact that he had to, sadly, distance himself from you on this issue.
It is very hard for sons to call their father’s out. Drunkards or wife beaters. Scoundrels or scallywags. WE do not openly berate our fathers. If ever asked about whether or not he’d seek your council, I doubt that he, unlike George W., would dismiss you and simply say that he goes with a higher father. So I can only assume that the amount of pain Jesse Jr. went through threatens a delicate relationship but he did it and THAT shows , ahem…nuts. Place it behind you in the same breath you asked the Senator to do the same.
Had this been Don Imus you would have made it the issue of the year and brought up stories of Black castrations past. You would have called for an apology from the individual, the stations, the network and possibly a few viewers. Here I am asking you to explain it. Loudly. To hold a town hall meeting and get the ball rolling…maybe about Black/ Latino relations…all with the watchful eye of new blood. Young Lions.
For sooner or later Jesse Jr. may too choose to walk the path you laid to the White House.
And he will not need you wandering aimlessly and name calling amongst petty furrows of the tall grass. But beside him. Loudly announcing that you are still here.
You are still here.