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Interview with Reverend Jesse Jackson

Aired March 12, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET




MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For almost 50 years, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has been at the center of America's civil rights discussions and is today regarded by many as one of the most influential activists in America.

He began his political work alongside Martin Luther King, participating in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. And 19 years later, he founded the One Rainbow Coalition, with a message of social justice and racial equality. That same year, 1984, Jackson entered the Democratic Party primaries, becoming only the second African-Americans ever to launch a nationwide campaign for the U.S. presidency.

He failed to generate widespread support, but in 1988, he tried again. That year, he claimed 21 percent of the delegates for the party's national convention, finishing second to eventual nominee, Michael Dukakis.

Jackson has also been a strong supporter of President Obama throughout his political career.

Jesse Jackson is your Connector of the Day.


FOSTER: For nearly five decades now, Jesse Jackson has been one of the influential civil rights leaders in the United States. He continues to play a significant role in black politics.

With that said, Jesse Jackson joins us on the show tonight live from Washington.

Thank you so much for coming onto the program for you.


FOSTER: Lots of people will remember those images of you crying when Barack Obama was sworn in.

Looking back on the past year, has he lived up to your hopes and expectations?

JACKSON: For the most part, he certainly has. One, he's set a -- a high moral tone for our country. We've become so alienated from many parts of the world, with the Kyoto Treaty, for example; with the unnecessary misadventure into Iraq. So he has set a high moral tone, A, trying to end the war in Iraq, trying to work out a way to gracefully get out -- get out of Afghanistan. And he has a lot of stuff and he's working through, in my judgment, very well.

I think he was a high point when he spoke in Egypt about the great religions finding common ground and common humanity and not allowing any religion to be used as a cover for terrorism, as we seek to end the alienation that leads to so much terrorism. I think, for the most part, he has done a good job.

And fighting the health care fight is a big fight, but it is, in my judgment, the right fight.

FOSTER: Lots of questions along these lines coming in from viewers.

Felix Casanga asks: "Do you think Obama has lost track when you compare what he is doing now and the promises -- the promises that he made during his presidential campaign?"

JACKSON: No. I think the resistance is very great. For example, there are 50 million Americans who have no health insurance, another 50 million who do not have catastrophic health insurance. So fighting for health coverage for all is the right thing to do. There are 40 million Americans who are in poverty and 21 million without a job. But there has been great resistance to that move because the interests of insurance companies and hospitals and pharmaceuticals are very great.

So he's fighting against a headwind. But it is the right -- it's better to fight the right fight and -- and it be a long fight than fight the wrong fight and accept a kind of cheap grace.

I also think that his sense of -- of reconciliation over confrontation is setting a new tone for America within and -- and around the world, really.

FOSTER: OK. Kimo from Canterbury here in England asks: "If the Obama administration were to call on you to take a more active role in African affairs, as an envoy, for example, would you accept that?"

JACKSON: Oh, I remain available to serve at any -- at the president's pleasure. I'm a special envoy under President Clinton for democracy in -- in Africa. But whether it is Africa or Haiti, I think it's always the patriotic thing to do to be at the pleasure of -- of a sitting president, to do that which is in our national and international interests.

FOSTER: What would be your big push if you took on a role like that?

JACKSON: Well, I think the real big point is there is this growing gap between the surplus and the deficit cultures. Fewer and fewer have more and more and more and more have less and less. There's this huge global crisis where we've -- where we've -- in some sense, refinanced and refortified the banks and the wealth has gone upward. And home foreclosures are at a record peak. And student loan defaults are at a record peak. And so there must be a commitment to restructuring these banking giants and not just refortify them.

I think that's impacting the whole world, because if we focus on the banks and how should we handle their greed and -- and their schemes, what about undrinkable water, HIV/AIDS, the hungry and the poor?

My emphasis remains on how do we handle those who are being left out of the equation. The world is simply too abundant in resources to have so many hungry people and illiterate children.

FOSTER: Huge, huge issues.

"Are you a civil rights leader or a black civil rights leader?," asks APD.

JACKSON: Well, my race is self-evident. But every issue we've ever fought has been fought for broader humanity. When we fought, for example, to end apartheid in America in 1954, it was to bring down the walls that separated all of us. The right to vote -- in 1965, blacks led the fight, but white women couldn't serve on juries or 18-year-olds could not vote, farmers who couldn't pay poll taxes, they could not vote. We did not have bilingual voting.

And so the Voting Rights Act democratized democracy for all of us. And every issue we've ever fought -- whether to end apartheid in South Africa or wipe out malnutrition, we've always fought to better humanity and move what I call from a racial battleground to economic common ground, shared security and then on together to moral higher ground and live in a world without war.

FOSTER: Lots of other civil rights movements take so much inspiration from what you've done in America, particularly with Martin Luther King, of course. And Jay Gannon from Ireland has written in to us, saying: "Do you see parallels between the civil rights movement that you were involved in and the gay rights movement? How do you feel they can gain greater accept, recognition, for example?"

JACKSON: Well, first of all, let me say to our friend in Ireland, we've been to Ireland helping to fight that fight and we think it's moving toward a resolution and that is a good thing. But I think that we -- we're all living our faiths, but at least we live under the law. People who are gay or people who are black or white should not be -- have -- should not have their rights denied based upon their gender, their race or their religion.

So I hope that we will begin to measure human rights by one yardstick -- human rights for all human beings.

FOSTER: Along those lines, Koira from New York says: "What do you think is missing in today's society that makes it so difficult for some to accept all minorities into the mainstream?"

JACKSON: Well, I think we've been poisoned about each other and -- and the beauty of pulling down walls and building bridges is that we see each other more clearly and more respectfully. Our -- our look at America's progress may have been this way. August 20th, 1955, Emmett Till was lynched. It was a horrible crime. And yet those who killed him were not pursued vigorously by the law.

August 20th, 1963, eight years later, Dr. King was giving his speech in Washington, dreaming beyond our predicament.

August 28th, 2008, President Obama nominated for the Democratic Party in -- in Denver, Colorado.

So from Emmett Till to the March on Washington to Denver, Colorado, now President Obama, as the nation, as our president, we've seen progress. There is unfinished business, but we must measure that progress and appreciate the road to the maturity of our nation. In many -- in many ways it's just the (INAUDIBLE) of our country.

But I look at now a black legislator in -- in the government in -- in Rome, a black cabinet member in -- in the government in France or the growth of the -- of blacks in -- in Britain. And one sees us moving from colonialism and slavery toward coexistence. And that is a step in the right direction.

FOSTER: Jesse Jackson, thank you so much for joining us on the program today.

JACKSON: Thank you.

FOSTER: Now, next week, we've got another great list of Connectors on the show for you. And first, to start things, The Black Eyed Peas. This chart topping hip-hop band has already sold more than 25 million albums worldwide.

How do you -- how do they keep bringing out hit after hit?

Is there something you'd like to ask them?

If so, go to our Web site and post your questions. Remember, this is your chance to get connected. Head to and we'd love to hear from you anything you like there.