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FIRST-PERSON: Buck stops with Jessie Jackson if his rhetoric provokes violence

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Prior to the Supreme Court decision that ended the 2000 election, the Rev. Jessie Jackson predicted there would be a “civil rights explosion” if George W. Bush’s appeal prevailed.

After the ruling was issued in favor of Bush, Jackson stated, “We will take to the streets right now … .” In light of the remark, I expected spontaneous marches to erupt from sea to shining sea.

As I write these words, it has been more than 36 hours since Jackson uttered his pronouncement. Thus far, his prophecy is unfulfilled. Though the reverend used the words “right now,” I should have known better than to expect immediacy. Politicians and lawyers have instructed us that words may be construed beyond their traditional definitions. While one might think the words “right now” mean “at once,” in Jackson’s vocabulary it apparently denotes “at an opportune time in the future in order to organize.”

Insuring he will not be a false prophet, the civil rights leader is in the process of lighting the fuse of the “explosion” he predicted. Jackson is calling for nonviolent protests across America to take place Jan. 15, the date of Martin Luther King’s birthday.

While the reverend says he wants peaceful protests, the rhetoric he is using is almost incendiary. “We will take to the streets right now, we will delegitimize him, do whatever it takes, but never accept him,” Jackson vowed in reference to Bush’s presidency. Phrases like “civil rights explosion” and “do whatever it takes” could very easily be construed by some as advocating demonstrations that would be less than demure.

Add to the aforementioned the unfounded accusations that Florida’s governor orchestrated the targeting of black voters for intimidation, and you have an influential leader who is at best irresponsible and at worst reckless.

Ironically, in promotional materials from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a civil rights organization founded by Jackson, the reverend is said to be known as the “great unifier” for bringing people together in common ground across lines of race, class, gender and belief.

Currently, the “great unifier” is anything but. He is not only utilizing his position to urge divisiveness, but he is also using rhetoric that could encourage protests to be less than peaceful.

When asked by Human Rights Weekly if the intimidation he alleges was the fault of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Jackson responded, “It [the alleged intimidation] happened on his watch, therefore he is responsible … the buck stops somewhere. That’s what leaders must do.”

If the organized protests on Jan. 15 do turn ugly, Jackson, by his own admission, must be held accountable. The buck stops with him. His choice of divisive language is keeping the wound of this election open and thus preventing it from healing.

It is time for the “great unifier” to live up to his billing and do something positive. One suggestion would be for him to change the tone of his rhetoric and seek productive change.
Boggs is a pastor in McMinnville, Ore. (BP) photo posted in BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: KELLY BOGGS

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  • Kelly Boggs