In a speech given at the University’s Trotter Multicultural Center earlier today, Rev. Jesse Jackson offered a clear message to students: “When you as students fight back, you change America for the better.”
Jackson’s University visit is part of a larger cross-state tour aimed at promoting an upcoming march through downtown Detroit. The Aug. 28 march — organized by Rainbow/PUSH, Jackson’s non-profit social justice organization — focuses on advocating “jobs, justice, and peace,” according to a press release on the organization’s website.
In his brief talk before more than 60 attendees, Jackson encouraged the audience — predominantly students — to attend the march and explained its relevance to them.
“Part of my quest today is [to march] for student loan debt forgiveness,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, student loan debts are becoming a problem of “astronomical proportions.”
To illustrate his point, Jackson asked audience members with student loan debts to raise their hands and say aloud much they owe. In response, one audience member said she was $50,000 in debt while another said she still had over $100,000 to pay.
Jackson said University students with large loans to repay will likely graduate with some sense of disappointment.
“You’ve paid such great dues, your sense of disappointment takes on astronomical proportions,” he said.
Jackson said the forthcoming march would be an important movement for students, citing the impact of other marches in history.
“Mass non-violent marching always works undefeated,” Jackson said. “It’s what laborers did, what Gandhi did (and) it’s what Dr. (Martin Luther) King did.”
Jackson then recalled marching with King in the 1960s, a time when non-violent marches “began to affect the culture in a massive way.”
“Somehow, with courage, we changed the course of our country — basically led by students,” Jackson said.
As Jackson pointed out, it was students who started the sit-ins that helped lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Whenever students choose to be sacrificial and selfless, they … come alive,” Jackson said.
Jackson added that mass marches are an important step toward social unification, especially in a state like Michigan, which he said he sees as lacking cohesive communication.
“Often people live so close and yet so far away,” Jackson said. “It’s a kind of alienation we must address. Part of our mission is to connect the forces that share a common interest.”
Jackson encouraged the University student attendees to connect with fellow students at Michigan State and Wayne State in preparation for the march.
“Facebook, Twitter — I’m challenging you to … connect with your allies,” Jackson said.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily after his talk, Jackson said he’s confident University students can make an impact at Saturday’s march.
“Students marching may inspire the registered to vote, and the unregistered to register,” Jackson told the Daily, adding that student marchers “could have an impact on student debt forgiveness.
“Marching ought to set an agenda for change,” he said.