by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Rev. Jesse Jackson pulled off something that the US State Department could not. The pastor and activist went across the world to Gambia and saved 38 lives in one meeting. Jackson met with Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, and was able to leave the country with Amadou Janneh and Tamsir Jasseh, two men who’d been incarcerated for treason after protesting against the government. The rest of the prisoners were also set to be executed, and Rev. Jackson got the president to reconsider his decision to move forward with the executions. His achievement was nothing short of phenomenal.
I spoke with Rev. Jackson this week while appearing on his radio show. We were all a bit surprised to see that none of the big three media outlets (ABC, NBC, CBS) covered his trip to Gambia. Surprisingly, only Fox News sent a correspondent to cover the negotiations. This surprised me, since Fox was the network that seemed determined to destroy Rev. Jackson back in 2008, when he was caught making problematic remarks about Barack Obama off the air. Maybe Rev. Jackson has forgiven Fox News for what they did, but I have not. At the same time, Rev. Jackson also takes responsibility for his mistake and has apologized multiple times.
I asked Rev. Jackson how he was able to go to Gambia and do something that the state department had been unable to do. Rev. Jackson mentioned that the civil rights movement had achieved a type of moral authority around the world that the US government does not possess. The model that African Americans used to obtain our rights within the United States has inspired the world, earning respect from leaders who appreciate what we’ve accomplished.
“I can have meetings with people who won’t talk to anybody else,” he said. “Our opinion matters in the world in a way that the government’s opinion does not.”
With regard to Rev. Jackson’s achievement in Gambia, it is important that we support all black public figures who are seeking to make progress for people of color, even if they are not being invited to the White House. Part of the reason that such little progress has been made in the black community since the advent of the Obama presidency is that the powers that be have made people choose between those who are passively loyal to Obama and those who are loyal to black American issues. This should not be a decision that we are forced to make, for we are not betraying Barack Obama by asking him to address African American issues.
I’ve spent a great deal of time around both Rev. Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton over the last four years, and both of them have been strong supporters and defenders of the president. The primary difference between the two is that Rev. Sharpton is taking Obama’s agenda to black people and Rev. Jackson is taking the agenda of black people to the president. While some say that the black community has not been clear on what it would like President Obama to do, selective listening often leads to a set of conclusions that are patently false.
Rev. Jackson has been very consistent in asking the Obama Administration to address poverty, inequality and violence as part of the Democratic Party platform. Poverty is as bad as its been since Dr. King was alive, economic and educational inequality still limit opportunities for our children and violence is killing our kids every day. I would personally add the mass incarceration epidemic to the mix, to argue that the black agenda has been presented loud and clear.
Given that a black agenda has been long presented to the White House, the primary question is “Which leadership is the Obama Administration listening to?”
Are they listening to black leaders who come to White House functions and fight for gay marriage, the Dream Act and other matters that have been handed down by the Obama Administration? Or are they listening to the leaders who have been consistently beating the drum on poverty, inequality, violence and mass incarceration? I argue that while the Obama Administration certainly has the right to have ideas of its own, we can no longer have black people wasting their votes by supporting an administration that uses this political capital to go fight for someone else. It is important to make it abundantly clear that there IS INDEED a black agenda, and that this agenda is just as important as anyone else’s.
As we move forward to a second term for President Barack Obama, I remain hopeful that the president will understand the importance of sitting down with a multitude of African American leaders, and not just the ones with whom he feels most comfortable. Rev. Al Sharpton has been a great support mechanism for the administration, but meetings with Obama must also include Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Dr. Wilmer Leon, Dr. Ron Daniels, Michelle Alexander, and perhaps even his old pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Meetings should include others who are in a position to intelligently discuss poverty, inequality, violence and mass incarceration in ways that are both understanding of presidential limitations, but substantive enough to encourage the White House to make these matters a priority.
We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be bamboozled.
Dr Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of YourBlackWorld.net. He also stars in the Janks Morton film, “Hoodwinked,” with Steve Perry, Marc Lamont Hill and Jawanza Kunjufu. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.