Rev. Jesse Jackson emphasizes student activism in keynote speech

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 9:16pm

Reverend Jesse Jackson gives his keynote address for a symposium honoring his legacy in Rackham Auditorium on Wednesday.

Reverend Jesse Jackson gives his keynote address for a symposium honoring his legacy in Rackham Auditorium on Wednesday. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

 

Amid a massive student walkout in response to President-elect Donald Trump and a post-election spike in hate crimes on campus, famed civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered a keynote address at Rackham Amphitheater to cap off a symposium honoring his legacy Wednesday afternoon.

Jackson, who appeared at the protest earlier in the day, spoke at length about hope, reform of the voting process and the importance of student activism.

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, University Provost Martha Pollack and multiple deans were in attendance, along with close to 300 campus community members. Jackson, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University in 1979, repeatedly emphasized the importance of students, and the country as a whole, coming together in the wake of a controversial election.

“Our democracy has been damaged with fear,” he said. “It is our nation and souls that must be healed. How do we keep hope and resistance alive? First, we must maintain hope. Students, don’t let them break your spirit.”

The frequency of hate crimes across the country has spiked since Trump’s victory, including incidents in Ann Arbor targeting Muslim women and students’ ethnic identities in the last week. Students have held a number of speakouts, demonstrations and vigils in response, all of which Jackson deemed crucial to the nation’s reconciliation.

“I was disappointed the night of the election … but we must live within the world, not above it,” he said. “You must be your own proper sanctuary for your classmates.”

Jackson highlighted that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has likely won the national popular vote, using it as an entry to critiques of the Electoral College and laws restricting voter participation. This year marked the first presidential election since the Supreme Court’s invalidation of parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank at New York University's School of Law, found 14 states introduced new voter restrictions in 2016, including photo ID requirements and strict early voting deadlines. Many of these states were swing states in the election.

In his remarks, Jackson railed against voter suppression, and argued for a system more focused on the popular vote.  

“A suppressed vote matters (and) we would not do well to assume the popular vote does not matter,” he said.

Jackson also called for President Barack Obama to pardon Clinton in light of an FBI probe into her emails. The probe has since been closed, but in a presidential debate last month, Trump suggested he would jail Clinton upon his election. FBI Director James Comey announced two days before the election that new information discovered still did not warrant any federal charges.

“President (Abraham) Lincoln pardoned offenders who engaged in treason in an effort to bind up and heal the wounds after the Civil War,” Jackson said, drawing historical comparisons with previous presidents. “(Gerald) Ford did the same thing with (Richard) Nixon even though he defiled and debased the Constitution. It would be wise in the name of justice if Obama did the same to pardon Hillary Clinton.”

Social Work student Christiana Allen said the symposium’s events cemented Jackson’s importance and relevance to national conversations on civil rights, especially with his appearance at the student walkout.

“His whole entire being still embodies what it means to connect with central spaces such as the church and the school,” she said. “He focused on hope … he was able to acknowledge that taking a stand takes courage and is necessary. Fighting a battle you know may not win to make opportunities possible for people in the future is essential.”

Jackson finished by again underscoring the role and urgency of student organizing, saying to activists, “You are not our future. You are right now.”