Politics Mondays: Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s Columbia, South Carolina Speech Endorsing Howard Dean For President
Both Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at Lincoln's Memorial began their most famous speeches by setting them contextually - Lincoln in the context of our nation's founding and Dr. King in the context of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Today's event also has a context. Seven score, two years and eight months ago our great nation found itself in a quandary. The single proposition upon which the Declaration of Independence was conceived and our nation was dedicated - "that all men (and women) are created equal" - was in conflict with its "peculiar institution."
I. We Are In An Historic State At An Historic Time
Abraham Lincoln was elected the first Republican President in November of 1860, but by December 20th South Carolina had seceded from the Union. South Carolinians were determined, however, to possess federal property in their state, including Fort Sumter, located offshore from Charleston, in Charleston Harbor.
U.S. troops, isolated on Fort Sumter, were hungry.
President Lincoln notified South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens of his peaceful intention to resupply the men at Fort Sumter with food for hungry men. However, Louis Wigfall of South Carolina, and Edmund Ruffin and Roger Pryor of Virginia, had been promoting the idea of moving the "procrastinating states" into the secessionist fold.
"The shedding of Blood," wrote Ruffin, "will serve to change many voters in the hesitating states, from the submission or procrastinating ranks, to the zealous for immediate succession. If you want us to join you," Pryor told the Charlestonians, "Strike a blow!"
On April 9, Jefferson Davis ordered General Pierre G. T. Beauregard to strike Fort Sumter before Lincoln's food for hungry men could arrive. At 4am on Friday morning, April 12, 1861, southern forces opened fire on Fort Sumter and the war began.
II. The Richest Soil And The Poorest People
Today the United States is the richest nation in the world, but its political system has mal-distributed its bounty.
Forty-years ago, Dr. King reminded us of the moral failure of a nation that was willing to spend billions of dollars to put a man of the moon, but, tragically, couldn't put a man on his own two feet right here on earth.
Forty-years later, this same nation has an $11 trillion GDP, but also, tragically, 35 million Americans are still languishing in poverty.
Our nation permanently "ended welfare as we know it," but for the nearly 20 million Americans who have either never held a job, are currently unemployed, underemployed, or working part-time when they'd like to be working full-time, the nation has yet to end permanent unemployment as we know it.
Today, Governors don't stand in school house doors using words like interposition and nullification. Instead, most of them just stand in their states, politically frozen, unable or unwilling to seek the help they need or to spend what is necessary to fix our schools.
Education has been a key to our nation's success. Yet, in too many of our public schools, the buildings are literally falling in on students. Fifty-three million students do not enjoy an equal educational opportunity. The children of Iraq may have new and better schools before many American children do!
We spend $1.7 trillion, 15% of our GDP, on health care - more than double any other nation - yet we have 44 million Americans with no health insurance and another 49 million who are underinsured. We are the only industrialized democracy in the world that does not have a universal health care system for all of its citizens.
We're a nation of enormous national wealth, but we're suffering from an anemia of national will to do what we know is just.
Of the various regions in the country, the South still has the greatest economic and material need for jobs, good public schools and quality health care.
Historically, however, race, ideology and social issues have been used to keep our minds - white and black - off of our common economic needs and interests.
RACE has been the primary tool.
IDEOLOGY has run a close second. Whether trying to characterize civil rights and progressive leaders as unAmerican or unpatriotic, or trying to characterize any moderate, liberal or progressive politician as an "extremist" - all such ideological allegations have served the status quo of continued economic and political injustice.
The diversion of using SOCIAL ISSUES has also worked: campaigning to "keep prayer in public schools," "to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings," to maintain "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, and around the death penalty, welfare mothers, abortion, homosexuality and pornography.
As a result, political campaigns that ought to be focused on the economic needs of the South - and the nation - instead are turned into quasi-religious cultural crusades around moral values. Only race, ideology and social issue diversion has kept the South from becoming economically progressive!
The South is the most socially conservative region in the country - it prays the Lord's Prayer, believes in the Ten Commandments, honors family and proudly flies the American flag.
But, economically, it has the least to conserve. With the least material wealth and the greatest needs, the South's ECONOMIC conservatism is UNNATURAL.
III. "Strike A Blow" For "Food For Hungry Men"
God has blessed the South - the Bible Belt - with the richest soil, but it is also home to the poorest people.
But God keeps on giving us chances.
One-hundred-and-forty-three-years later, the nation's attention is again on South Carolina. A candidate is coming to articulate his peaceful intention to provide long-over-due supplies to the American people.
One-hundred-and-forty-three-years later, we refuse to believe that the great supply vaults of this nation are empty! South Carolina - an important primary state, in the richest country, with the strongest military, and the only remaining superpower on earth -again has an opportunity to "strike a blow" - but, this time, to allow a nation to supply "food for hungry men."
One-hundred-and-forty-three-years later, with 20 million Americans in need of work, South Carolinians must "strike a blow" to put America back to work - not allow the distribution of our nation's great bounty merely to its richest citizens.
One-hundred-and-forty-three-years later - for children who find themselves isolated and languishing in poor, middle class or wealthy ghetto schools, in barrios or on Native American reservations, without an adequate education and little hope or understanding -"strike a blow" for an education of equal high quality for all of America's children.
One-hundred-and-forty-three-years later, with 44 million Americans without health insurance, I urge the great people of the State of South Carolina to "strike a blow" to "provide health care" for all Americans.
One-hundred-and-forty-three-years later, even as we strive to be a God-fearing people and a morally just nation, we must "strike a blow" to bring the dream of "peace on earth" and "good will toward all men, women and nations" closer to reality.
One-hundred-and-forty-three-years later, we come together in Columbia, South Carolina because we believe that the creativity of our people has not atrophied and our productive capacity has not dwindled.
Our storage bins are full and running over - BUT THEY NEED TO BE UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT so the goods and services Americans produce can be more equitably distributed to all of the American people.
Today I'm endorsing Howard Dean because he desires to provide "food for hungry men and women" - jobs, education and health care - and to "strike a blow" to lift all Americans to a new economic plane and a higher moral plateau.
South Carolinians, you can again "strike a blow." Strike a blow to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, to provide shelter for the homeless, health care for the sick, and attend to the stranger on the Jericho Road.
I still believe a nation that helped to rebuild Western Europe and Japan after World War II; that's helping to reconstruct Eastern Europe after the Cold War; that's rebuilding schools and infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan; and that seeks to establish democracy around the world; that that same nation can build a greater democracy at home, build new schools and hospitals here, and rebuild America's infrastructure as well.
South Carolinians have a chance to strike a blow for a new history in this state. Indeed, there will be no new history in this state - or in this nation - until South Carolina strikes such a blow with its votes.
South Carolinians, you can "strike a blow" to make these dreams more of a reality for all Americans.
Strike a blow! Vote for jobs. Strike a blow! Vote for education. Strike a blow! Vote for health care.
The rest of the nation, the procrastinating states - Michigan and Washington - are waiting for South Carolina to strike a blow for full employment. For until South Carolinians vote for a job for every American, no American can truly feel secure in their job.
The rest of the nation, the procrastinating states - Virginia and Tennessee - are waiting for South Carolina to strike a blow for high quality public schools in all 50 states, 3,067 counties, 20,000 cities, 15,000 public school districts, and 85,000 public schools. But until South Carolinians vote for a public education of equal high quality, America cannot secure better schools for every American.
The rest of the nation, the procrastinating states - Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Hawaii and Kansas - are waiting for South Carolina to strike a blow for health care. Until South Carolinians vote for health care for themselves, Americans cannot secure better health care for the rest of America.
If South Carolina strikes a blow - with your vote - for jobs, education and health care, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, Nebraska, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon, Idaho, South Dakota, Alabama, New Mexico, Montana, and New Jersey will follow you.
Your vote "will serve to change many voters in the hesitating states . . . to the zealous for immediate" change. "Strike a Blow."
South Carolina, vote your hopes . . . not your fears. The rest of the nation is depending on you.
Vote your economic interests. Don't be hoodwinked by race and ideology, or diverted by social issues.
Vote for Howard Dean. Vote to build a more perfect Union.
I enthusiastically endorse Howard Dean for President of the United States with great hope and these high expectations in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul.
Note: The above is the text of a speech given by Congressman Jackson, Jr. on December 7, 2003 in Columbia, South Carolina
Monday, December 8, 2003