Thursday, October 18, 2018 Appalachian State University WITH JUSTICE FOR ALL: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CIVIL RIGHTS AT HOME AND ABROAD By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
Appalachian State University
WITH JUSTICE FOR ALL: HUMAN RIGHTS AND CIVIL RIGHTS AT HOME AND ABROAD
By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Thank you, Dr. Joy James, Ms. Sonya Jones, Mr. Flip Porter and all those involved in making this event possible and making my brief presence here so welcoming. I guess its just part of Appalachian State’s hospitality – and I thank you.
“With justice for all: human rights and civil rights at home and abroad” - what a great topic to be discussing today, because all those ideas are massively under attack in 2018!
We have an out-of-control Republican President, an accommodating, accepting and obedient Republican Congress and a Republican Supreme Court that’s: (1) putting “justice for all” on hold and justice itself in jeopardy; and (2) undermining “human rights and civil rights both at home and abroad.”
Love is the universal principle that is at the center of every major religion and humane philosophy – religious or non-religious. Love your neighbor as you love yourself is the central teaching of Jesus. And Dr. Cornell West adds: “justice is what love looks like in public.” So your emphasis of “with justice for all” is right on point.
The central questions are what constitutes justice and how do we achieve justice? I believe that in a democracy, in the end: (1) the people collectively will define and say what justice is through their elected officials and judicial decisions; and (2) we can only achieve justice through a balance of power; and there are only two sources of material power – economic and political.
I. VOTING RIGHTS UNDER ATTACK
Most of us don’t have economic power, so the only material power available to us is political, and political power must be organized. Politics is the distribution system for the economic system – it determines who, gets what, when, where, how, how much, for how long and what it’s called – welfare or a tax cut, and both come from the public treasury. Organized political power means democracy. And the key that unlocks democracy’s door is the right to vote.
Our right to vote – and therefore democracy - is under attack! And when it comes to voting, African Americans are the canary in the coalmine. What affects African Americans today will affect all Americans tomorrow. If those in power limit or suppress the African American and people of color’s vote today, they will limit or suppress the white vote tomorrow. If the new demographics are the rationale for attacking blacks and people of color today, they will come up with another rationale if white people threaten the concentration of economic power tomorrow.
I don’t need to tell you about racial injustice and voter suppression in North Carolina. I’m a graduate of North Carolina A & T and the Greensboro Four’s sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter in 1960 helped me to get more deeply involved in ending southern segregation. I know personally the difference students can make.
And the North Carolina Republican legislature passed the largest group of voter suppression laws in the nation, described by a federal court as designed to racially discriminate “with almost surgical precision.”
There are three other recent current examples of voter suppression. In Georgia the Secretary of State – the person who oversees all elections – is running for Governor against Stacey Abrams, a black woman. He has removed over a million citizens from the voter rolls since 2016 – including 670,000 in 2017. He’s refusing to process 53,000 new registrations - 80 percent are people of color and 70 percent are African Americans. A lawsuit has been filed to stop his undemocratic actions. Every past Secretary of State has seen the “conflict of interest” and resigned from office when running for a higher office, but Brian Kemp, who has a history of discriminating against African American voters, has refused to step aside.
In Gwinnett County, the second largest and most diverse in Georgia, with 60 percent of its population people of color – African Americans, Hispanics and Asians – the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported this week local officials are throwing out 1-in-10 absentee ballots. You know that’s wrong!
In North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp was elected in 2012 because of the massive Native American vote she received in this overwhelmingly red state. So, what did the Republicans do? They changed the law. They enacted a law that said the tribal IDs Native Americans have traditionally used to vote must have a street address on them – something most Native Americans don’t have. They have P.O. Box addresses and they’ve never been required to have an “address” before. The law was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, and last week in the first voting rights case with Justice Kavanaugh on the Court it voted 5-to-4 to support the new law – i.e., it said a racially discriminatory law was constitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts has been an opponent of voting rights since he urged President Reagan to veto extending the Voting Rights Act in a memo in 1982. I assume we can’t expect “equal protection under law” for voting rights from this Supreme Court.
In Texas the Republican state legislature passed a law that said gun owners could use their state-issued gun ID to vote, but students couldn’t use their state-issued student ID to vote. And when the Shelby case was decided in 2013 - gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act - within two hours the Secretary of State (now Governor Greg Abbott) said they were going to implement voter legislation that the Obama Justice Department had found to be racially discriminatory. He further stated – commenting on the Shelby decision - “and we don’t have to check with the federal government anymore.” Later Federal Courts found the law was both effectively and intentionally racially discriminatory.
Last week in 70 percent white Waller County Texas, where a Supreme Court precedent was set by students at historically black Prairie View A & M, a case that said students can vote where they reside, that is, on campus, county officials told students to list one of two addresses on their registration application - which they did. Then on September 26 the election board said the addresses were wrong and if they had listed one of the two addresses they would not be allowed to vote. The Democrat running for office sent his Field Director to the board with a letter protesting the change in policy and took a picture of himself documenting that he gave the letter to the voting officials. As he left the office, election officials called the police. They approached him and ask which party the congressman he represented belonged to? He told them - the Democratic Party – and they arrested him. To make a long story short, when all of this went public and the media projected what they had done to the nation, they worked out a resolution, so the students will be able to vote.
There’s been a lot of focus on WikiLeaks, Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election and the Comey letter – all of which is valid - but I’m keeping my eyes focused on TrickeyLeaks: making voting more difficult for every American nation-wide; and voter suppression of people of color here in America.
Why are all these anti-democratic schemes and this voter suppression even possible? You, your professors and your community will likely be surprised to learn that the United States is one of only 11 nations that doesn’t have the right to vote in their Constitution, and that’s out of 119 nations that elect their public officials in some democratic manner!
Our Constitution outlaws discrimination in voting on the basis of race (15th), gender (19th) and age (26th) respectively, but there is no affirmative, explicit, individual right to vote in our Constitution!
States engage in all these voter suppression and racially discriminatory schemes because the right to vote is a “state right” not a “federal right.” We have a states’ rights and local control voting system.
The ultimate irony is, after the Heller decision of 2008, Americans do have the fundamental individual right to a gun, but do not have the fundamental individual right to vote in our Constitution. You know that’s crazy!
So, the next important civil rights, justice and democracy struggle is to fight to add a right to vote amendment to the Constitution, so Congress can pass commonsense national standards and end these “states’ rights” and local schemes of racially motivated voter discrimination and voter suppression.
Mark Pocan (D-WI) introduced H. J. Res. 74 in the 115th Congress and it has 37 co-sponsors. Students, your next assignment is to get Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, a strong gun rights advocate, on this bill as a cosponsor – or find out why she supports a federal individual right to a gun but does not support a federal individual right to vote in our Constitution.
II. HUMAN RIGHTS AT HOME ARE IN JEOPARDY
Health Care. I believe health care is a human right! We’re a rich nation so I believe that every American is entitled to high quality health care. The Affordable Care Act was step in that direction. In 1965 we passed Medicare for the elderly and dramatically reduced poverty and the number of people filing for bankruptcy. We passed Medicaid for the poor and dramatically improved their lives. We need to pass Medicare for all and improve the overall health of Americans and be fiscally responsible by reducing costs.
All developed nations cover their citizens with universal and comprehensive health care. We pay more than double that of other nations yet leave 40 million Americans uncovered - except for the most expensive care (emergency care). Our health care system is the most expensive, but one of the least effective. According to the World Health Organization our system ranks 37th in the world, but we have some of the worst health characteristics – e.g., obesity and length of life. America has a “sick care” system – we seek health services when we get sick or get hurt – not a “health care” system that includes appropriate exercise, preventive care and a holistic approach to health.
President Donald Trump and many in Congress don’t believe health care is a human right. They believe you should get what you can pay for.
Education. I believe education is a human right and that all of our children deserve an equal high-quality public education. The reality is, according to the latest UCLA research, our public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954 when Brown was decided. Our public education system is like a donut – a sugarcoated ring on the outside with a hole in the middle. Today’s education system is both racially and economically segregated – whites have moved to the suburbs and taken their tax money with them and left many inner-city school systems economically deprived and comprised of poor black, brown and white students.
With all the humility he could muster President Trump said, “I’m really rich. I’m very smart. I know more than anyone else. I went to the best schools. I have words. I know all the best words.” That means you have to consider “greatest,” “largest,” “biggest,” “unbelievable,” “Miss. Piggy” and “would you vote for that face” - and a half-dozen curse words - as the “best (est)” words in the English language.
Trump appointed a person to head the Education Department, Betsy DeVos, who doesn’t even believe in public education and has used her vast money and all of her private career trying to undermine public education in favor of private education, vouchers and charter schools. She has weakened civil rights enforcement. She is transferring money from public education to private schools. She admitted on “60 Minutes” that she hasn’t visited poor, struggling or underperforming schools. She’s putting our children and the nation’s future at great risk.
Housing. I also believe that safe, sanitary and affordable housing is a human right, especially in a nation rich enough to provide decent shelter for all its citizens.
There’s an affordable housing crisis in the nation but HUD’s budget was reduced by $7 billion – 15% of its total budget - and its workforce was cut so much that some of its regional offices have closed and it can’t even support an in-house cafeteria. The former cafeteria sits vacant on the first floor of HUD as part of Steve Bannon’s fiat to deconstruct the welfare state and Grover Norquist’s mandate to “drown government in a bathtub.” This week President Trump ordered a 5 percent cut in all federal programs.
And this is only part of the domestic dysfunction: just look at the way the disaster in Puerto Rico is NOT being handled; look at our president’s attitude toward women and people of color; your middle class parents have NOT received the $4,000 Trump and the Republicans promised them from their tax cuts where 82 percent went to the top 1 percent and 63 percent to the top one-tenth-of-one-percent; fiscal conservatives, notice the fast growing budget deficits – the result of the tax cuts for the wealthy; have you noticed the lack of an infrastructure plan; and not to mention that parents have to protect their young children from the President’s past behavior and his current language.
III. HUMAN RIGHTS ABROAD ARE IN JEOPARDY
President Trump has argued that under past presidents, the world was laughing at us. But at his recent United Nations speech the exact opposite occurred – the world literally laughed out loud at HIM.
Previously we had a degree of credibility and moral authority in the world regarding human rights. Not anymore. President Trump attacks and alienates our democratic allies (e.g., Canada); attacks our defense and other alliances that have helped to keep the peace for 70 years (e.g., NATO and the European Union); he sabotages or pulls out of our most important international agreements (e.g., the Paris climate agreement); and cozies up to dictators and despots around the world (e.g., in Russia, China, North Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, Hungry and Saudi Arabia).
Trump argues that our foreign policy is “America First” but, like the United States, he argues that other nations are sovereign too and we will not interfere in their internal affairs. In other words, he’s taken moral judgments and concerns about violations of human rights off the table.
Then he says if Saudi Arabia’s leaders ordered or knew about the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi the Saudis will be severely punished – but then he takes the Saudi purchase of our military weapons (Trump has lied about the actual amount at stake) and other severe sanctions off the table.
He has congratulated the President of the Philippines for the way he’s handled their drug problem – by summarily murdering thousands of people without official charges or trials. On “60 Minutes” Leslie Stahl listed the violations of human rights by North Korean’s dictator and, while Trump acknowledged he was aware of them, he said they like each other, had a good relationship and they had fallen in love with each other. Trump believed Russian dictator Putin’s denial over his own 17 intelligence services whether there was Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election.
It’s clear our president prefers authoritarian leaders and dictators over democratically elected leaders and democracy.
Finally, President Trump’s white supremacist views surfaced in foreign policy when he referred to African nations as S-hole countries. It’s hard for the mouth to conceal what the heart wants to reveal.
America’s stated goal – as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated it on August 28, 1963 as “our nation’s dream” – is equal justice for all under law.
Our founders were imperfect, and they created a wonderful but imperfect original living document that we’ve improved upon at various times in our history – most notably in 1865, 1868 and 1870 with the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments respectively.
Most Americans believe we should use means that are as consistent as possible with our ends to achieve just results. If you believe in equal justice under law – i.e., follow the law and due process – it should only be changed if the law is unjust, like during legal segregation. If you believe in non-violent direct action, you can’t speak at political rallies and say, “I’d like to punch him in the face and if you do I’ll pay your legal expenses.”
We have a president who clings to “ends” but ignores and disregards “means.” He will justify and use any means to achieve his ends – which is an attitude and the actions of an authoritarian dictator devoid of any moral center or ethical considerations. His moral argument is, “We won”! His justification is, “I’m President and you’re not.”
The job of perfecting the Union if never finished and the torch is being passed to you to carry on the mission of perfecting our Union.
Democracy is important. And the vote is the key to democracy. Therefore, voting on November 6th is very important. Historically, young people have the lowest voter turnout. Appalachian State can change that! I hope you registered where you reside – which is here - because you know you’re not going home to vote.
It seems Americans vote more when we are fearful or when we are hopeful. FDR did both at the same time when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and then he offered the American people hope by giving them a New Deal. Young people voted for Barack Obama because he gave them hope. Women are not likely to vote for Donald Trump in 2018 because of fear. Michelle Obama said, “When they go low…we go high.” I agree that it’s important to be on high moral ground but in politics it’s more important, “When they go low…we go vote” in record numbers!
I have spent all my adult life affirming that whatever color, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity you are you can affirm yourself by believing “I Am Somebody.”
If you believe yourself to be somebody, then I know you’ll keep hope alive and fight for positive change in fulfillment of our joint mission to build a more perfect Union.
I don’t have any money to give you. I don’t have any material gifts to leave behind. But I do have three words that if you truly believe them will sustain you for the rest of your lives.
And those three words are - Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!
God bless you and thank you for your kind attention.
Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international organization that was formed in December 1996 by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. through merging of two organizations he founded Operation PUSH People United to Serve Humanity (estab. 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (estab. 1984). With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, the organization works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens while advocating for peace and justice around the world. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Its mission is to protect, defend and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields while promoting peace and justice around the world.