Jesse Jackson Revs Up Madison Crowd

A little after 3:00 Friday afternoon, in front of a crowd of 850 people that had gathered at short notice, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewics came outside of the city-county building with the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

“It’s nice to see so many people here,” the mayor said.

“And it’s nice to see the palm trees,” the mayor joked, alluding to Fox News’s insertion of some California ruckus footage that it had pawned off as being from Madison.

“This struggle is not just about union rights,” the mayor said. “It’s also about human rights. And it’s not just about civil rights but it’s also about peaceful protest. We have showed the world that Madison can protest peacefully.”

One person held a sign that said, “Firefighters for Workers’ Rights.”

And many people held pink signs that read, “Walker, Your Pink Slip Is Coming,” in response to the governor’s threat to hand out layoff notices.

Then the mayor introduced Jackson to tumultuous applause.

“Collective bargaining is what democracy looks like,” Jackson said. “The right to be at the table is what democracy looks like.”

Jackson revved up the Madison crowd, which was in a fighting spirit already.

“I congratulate you for your staying power,” he said, “for your commitment to hold on and hold out, and for your focus to stay nonviolent.”

Jackson then made a comparison between the civil rights movement and the current labor struggle in Wisconsin.

“This is the week we went across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the right to vote,” he said. “We have gone from Wallace trying to deny us the right to vote to Walker trying to deny workers the right to bargain. We have gone from Wallace to Walker.”

And he pointed out that “Dr. King’s last act on Earth was marching for workers’ rights.”

He added: “When we march, we honor Dr. King. When we march multiculturally and multiracially, we honor Dr. King. When we march nonviolently, we honor Dr. King.”

Jackson criticized Walker and other Republican governors for using
teachers and workers as “scapegoats.”

And he asked repeatedly, “Where is the money?”

He pointed out that there were trillions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for bailing out the banks. He said there were billions of dollars for tax breaks for the five biggest oil companies, even though they have made $1 trillion since 9/ll.

But somehow there is no money, Jackson said, for teachers or for universal health care or for forgiving student loans or for HeadStart or for Pell grants.

Jackson took pains to warn the crowd not to lose faith in the days ahead, even if Walker succeeds in passing his bill.

“Don’t let them break your spirits,” he said, as he concluded. “Stand tall. The journey gets hard some time. Hold on. Hold out. Victory is assured. Joy cometh in the morning.”

And with that, the crowd broke out into applause, and then, expressing Midwestern politeness and gratitude, chanted: “Thank you! Thank you!”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Did Scott Walker Confess to a Crime in Koch Prank?."

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