Contextualizing the Struggle: A Discussion with Reverend Jesse Jackson
Jarred and unsettled, Michigan in Color has shared in the sentiments of many students, faculty and staff on campus: fear, confusion, hopelessness, urgency and the need for action. Given that Michigan in Color is a space by and for people of color, our work has centered on providing MiC as a space and a platform for students to make sense of the about face taken by world around us. As events unfold rapidly, this world seems increasingly against us, our prosperity, our joy and our very existence. Tuesday morning, Michigan in Color was given the opportunity to reflect, to connect with the living and breathing history of civil rights activism in the United States by interviewing Reverend Jesse Jackson. MiC editors discussed in depth the impact of these recent elections with Reverend Jackson. We inquired about the future of this country, of activism and the continuing the fight to dismantle our interconnected oppression. We wanted to know what this moment meant to him in the context of a lifetime of activism. How had he been making sense of the larger sociopolitical implication of the recent election of Donald Trump? The conversation unfolded into a narrative of struggle, perseverance, and perspective. Although not religiously affiliated, all of the editors can attest to that fact that the experience was in fact spiritual. His words, etched in over half a century of experience, spoke to our past, present and future. A better future.
Four themes emerged from our discussion: accountability, responsibility, action and hope. No words could ever fully encapsulate the experience and we continue to process our conversation and its implication for our lives and the lives of those around us. However, the senior MiC editors present you with short reflections, intentionally weaving in the words of Reverend Jackson and the experiences of our campus climate and world. These messages we share with you all.
“They were hoping students would be indifferent by telling them ‘you’re our future’. You are not our future. You are right now. What you do or going to do matters right now.”
Reverend Jesse Jackson guided us through the tumultuous journey of social and political change in a time where today’s climate is extremely hostile towards marginalized communities. He instilled a great sense of urgency upon us. In a time of violent oppression, it is no longer an issue of building the future, because the future is now.
“What you do or don’t do matters right now. Whether you finish school or not matters right now. If you’re developing skills or not developing skills it matters right now. If you vote or you don’t vote, it matters right now. So you put political options on hold. No.”
Apathy has no place in the now. Making the passive decision to be silent is the active decision to accept oppression in the case that the tools are available for us to create change as individuals at the university. Yes, there is a struggle to build and protect resources, but simply witnessing it is definitely not enough. As individuals, we cannot let our grief, our anger, discourage us. It must liberate us to learn, develop and take political action.
In light of the presidential election, Reverend Jackson told us, in response to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not vote, that the most important weapon combating the enemies of systemic oppression, prejudice and discrimination is voting.
“One weapon is marching feet. One weapon is voting. One weapon is boycotts. One weapon is intellectual strengths. One weapon is mass organization. The strongest of these weapons is voting, because it sets laws.”
“We marched too long and bled too much for the right to vote to walk away from it as if it does not matter.”
— Christian Paneda, Michigan in Color Senior Editor
“If (a woman’s) hijab is snatched off, it’s like someone else is putting Blackface on. We should all be offended by each other’s burden. We should share the burden. The more you share, the easier it is to bear.”
As a nation we have to hold one another accountable for the America we want to be and for the values we have espoused. In his final months in office, President Obama urged the American people to hold their next president accountable, to make them better like we did for him. This is true now more than ever.
More than ever, we need to be engaging with our elected officials — and not just about the issues that affect us personally. We should all be disgusted by the hate crimes happening in our country. We should all be appalled by the idea of legislation that would militarize police, register Muslims, threaten women’s autonomy and strip LGBTQ rights. We have to organize and demand that our elected officials do not turn the clock on progress, no matter their political affiliation. As Reverend Jackson said, “we’ve got to protect the gains we’ve made.”
To the Republicans and Trump supporters who are quick to say they aren’t racists, misogynists or xenophobes, prove to us by your actions that you are not. As your candidate takes office, the onus is on you to make clear that you will not stand for the violent dismantling of minority rights. As Reverend Jackson poignantly stated, “to vote for Trump you’ve got to excuse an awful lot of mean things. You’ve got to excuse attacks on Muslim immigrants, excuse attacks on Black people. You’ve got to excuse misogyny… and so, when people make their choices there’s consequences for their choices.”
If you don’t stand for racism, misogyny and xenophobia, stand up for the rights of your fellow Americans.
— Sabrina Bilimoria, Michigan in Color Senior Editor
“As long as there’s massive direct action that’s nonviolent and disciplined with a point, you can be heard.”
The fight for civil rights is not over. The Voting Rights Act may have passed in 1965, but the 2016 election was marred by the success of laws aimed to suppress Black and other marginalized voters. In addition to still fighting for the right to vote, xenophobia, racism and sexism are now being turned into policy. People question our Muslim friends’ loyalties and the Latinx community’s right to be here. The fight for civil rights is not over.
We face social, political and economic concerns, but if we do not mobilize we will not be heard. Reverend Jackson said, “If they attempt to undermine protections to the right to vote, that’s cause for direct action. If they threaten Roe vs. Wade and women’s rights of self-determination, that’s cause for action. If there’s thoughts for increasing student loan debt, that’s cause for action.” If we stay silent, our hopes and dreams for a more equal America can not, and will not, be realized. We have two options, our vote and our voice. With our vote, we choose those who represent us. With our voice, through direct action, we represent ourselves and the causes we want righted.
We must act to protect the gains we have made and to fight those who wish to take them away. However, the call to action is not a call to violence. Reverend Jackson said, “We need constant disciplined direct action, nonviolent because when action becomes violent, violence becomes the subject line instead of the subject itself.” Through peaceful protest we begin to raise awareness, through violence we create reason to disavow our actions. The stakes are too high to permit others to hijack our message.
Fifty-one years ago, Reverend Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other members of the Civil Rights Movement marched to end Jim Crow laws and create a better America. Today, we are privileged to follow in their tradition of using nonviolent direct action to fight for our cause.
— Ashley Tjhung, Michigan in Color Senior Editor
“At the end of the day, we must go forward with hope and not backward by fear and division.There’s a tug of war for the soul of America. We’ve survived apart, but living together, that’s the great American challenge.”
Reverend Jackson has seen it all. He has labored in the trenches for decades and endured a lifetime of systemic oppression, prejudice and discrimination. He’s witnessed first hand some of our greatest historical victories as people of color, but he’s bore first hand some of the consequences of our failures. Yet, despite every obstacle, every failure, every challenge, he has remained steadfast in his fight for civil rights and social justice.
His life and experiences are are a testament that today, we must not lose hope. Just as he and the activists who have come before us were longsuffering in their struggle for justice and equality, we too must continue our struggle to be seen, heard and understood. What our society faces now is yet another changing tide in America’s racial and political climate that we must overcome. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Reverend Jackson tells us we must acknowledge the challenges that face us and work together to address them. We must learn to share the burdens of marginalized communities. We must recognize the selling of fear and false hope by those in power and work to find our own genuine hope.
The heart and soul of America is at stake, and the greatest challenge ahead of us lies in our ability to unify to fight this good fight for justice. Will we continue to be divided or are will we learn to work and live together?
— Alyssa Brandon, Michigan in Color Senior Editor
“You must position yourself with your moral weaponry. We intend not to marginalize apartheid, we intend to eliminate it. We don’t attempt to marginalize those opposed to a woman’s right to self-determination, we intend to fight for the women’s right to self-determination. The lines are drawn clearly.” — Reverend Jesse Jackson