Middle class America is vanishing and unless the nation creates an economic agenda focused on equality, it could be lost forever, according to the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In order to maintain its existence, we need to expeditiously reinvigorate our economic equality. There is no time to waste. We are at risk. American households and small businesses are threatened to make ends meet. Now, is the time if we want to start reshaping our families, businesses, and economy, said Jackson.
Jackson, who is hosting his 15th annual Wall Street Project in New York City, is focusing on ways to make things better for America’s beleaguered middle class. The event, which ends Friday, focuses on bringing everyone to the table in a bid for economic fairness. The founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition sat down with NewsOne to discuss why economic equality is needed more than ever in the United States.
NewsOne: The theme of this year’s Wall Street Project sounds similar to what President Barack Obama talked about in his State of the Union Address. What are your concerns regarding this country’s middle class?
Jesse Jackson: There are clear patterns of discrimination against Blacks and Latinos. The big banks targeted Blacks and Latinos with toxic packages of subprime predatory lending. Your house is your first small business. It’s where your investment is and [where] our greatest asset is. The wiping out of millions of homes took away Black and Brown wealth. It drove poverty, it drove unemployment, it drove people to food stamps.
The Black public sector middle class teachers, policeman, firemen, and post office workers, those jobs have been on the decline but there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the private sector. What is especially painful is government policy bailed out the banks without making them make reinvestments for rebuilding. The result is 53-million Americans are food insecure, 50-million Americans are in poverty, 44 million are on food stamps, 26 million are looking for a job. We must renew the economy from the bottom up, not top down.
NewsOne: How do you correct the issues that have negatively affected the middle class?
Jackson: The major companies got bailed out by the government so the victims should get bailed out by the government. The lack of oversight was what allowed the banks to run amok. The bankers who drove homeowners into foreclosure and churches into foreclosure never faced a judge. They faced small fines like Countrywide, but the fines did not correspond to what they stole. The fines became the cost of doing business as oppossed to a detterent. You really need a renewed commitment for the direct investment of jobs at the bottom.
You are not going to revive the unemployment of 26 million Americans with tax cuts. There was a direct jobs program from the Rooselvelt administration in the 1930s. The Justice Department has set up a task force to investigate the banks and the mortgage crisis but that’s a little too late. Whenever they report they will report the obvious. It will be too late to impact the people who need the help the most. We’ve known about mortgage fraud for four years.
NewsOne: What did you think about President Obama’s economic proposals in his State of the Union Address?
Jackson: President Obama projects a strong offense, but he faces a rebellious Congress focused on state’s rights. The interest right now is taking resources back to the state and allowing the minority to have tyranny over the minority. It’s an ideological power grab. It’s like in this Congressional rebellion they are willing to sink the ship to destroy the captain. You look at the Super PAC ads and they are attacking each other. They are not attacking poverty or the lack of health care. They are not attacking issues that matter. They are not discussing how to get people back to their houses.
NewsOne: Why is President Obama so vulnerable?
Jackson: This is such a toxic environment. Look at how the governor of Arizona puts her finger in his face. How disrespectful can you be to anyone, not to mention the President of the United States. That is profoundly disrespectful. It’s not unlike the Congress calling him a liar or Gingrich calling him a food stamp president who comes from some tribe in Kenya. They question his citizenship and his credentials. This is the most-toxic environment that we’ve known in a century.
NewsOne: Talk about one thing that needs to happen in the next few years to give the middle class a chance at recovery.
Jackson: The first thing that has to happen is the protection of voting rights and registration. If the right wing has their way and state’s rights control voting rights, they would remove protections that make it difficult for seniors to vote. It would be harder for students to vote on campus. These are attempts to suppress acts of voting. There are 16-million Blacks registered to vote but 10 million are unregistered. The 10-million unregistered voters may be the key to the election.
The election of President Obama or the right wing will determine what happens in the next few years. They want state’s rights again, they want to remove voting rights protection, they want to undermine Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. All the infrastructure Lyndon Johnson put in place is vulnerable to a right-wing controlled Congress and White House. The stakes are very high. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we have the power to fight back. When this happened in the past we didn’t have the right to vote. We couldn’t get into the stadium. We went to bat without a bat. But now we can swing the bat. We can hit the ball, but you have to come out of the dugout and fight. No one has earned the right to do less than their best.
NewsOne: Although the Black middle class has been disproportionately affected by the financial meltdown, isn’t the entire middle class of all races and ethnicities at risk?
Jackson: The liberation of Blacks is not for Blacks only. When Blacks got the right to vote, white women got the right to sit on juries. What’s good for Blacks is good for all of America. What’s good for the very rich might not be good for anybody but them. Why would anyone be able to make $21 million not showing up for work for a single day? That is vulgar capitalism. That is not good for the nation. When Lyndon Johnson kicked off the war on poverty he did so in Appalachia to deracialize the debate. We have a moral concern to feed all of the hungry, wipe out malnutrition, so that every American be housed and every child have access to education. Ours is a broad-based moral agenda. Our moral vision is not limited to race on one part of town.
NewsOne: You’ve been hosting the Wall Street Project for 15 years. Are you optimistic about any change the event has produced?
Jackson: Fifteen years later we are still in the business of opening closed doors and fighting for economic justice. We see measures of bits of progress. We are facing a stiff wind right now, but if we persist and keep fighting back, we will prevail.
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