State and national political leaders are failing their white constituents if they take health care away from people – just to be able to say they dismantled Obama-era policies, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
“What white leadership would allow white people to be denied health care?” he asked during an interview Friday with The News & Observer.
Jackson said many politicians have pushed to repeal the Affordable Care Act because of its connection to former President Barack Obama – and out of a mistaken belief that it was designed to benefit poor blacks. Bills that have been proposed to repeal the ACA would take away coverage for millions of low-income people, both black and white, he said.
“You’ve got whites who are without health care fighting against Obamacare … because they’ve been misled,” he said. “That’s a failure of white leadership.”
Jackson, 75, a longtime civil rights activist and two-time presidential candidate, was in Raleigh to speak at the annual conference of the N.C. NAACP. He is also a 1964 graduate of N.C. A&T University in Greensboro, which is celebrating its homecoming this weekend.
Jackson has been friends for three decades with the Rev. William Barber II, who is leaving his volunteer position as president of the North Carolina chapter after 12 years to work with the national Poor People’s Coalition.
Jackson hailed Barber’s leadership of the NAACP, saying Barber’s vision has not been limited to race but has focused on issues that affect broad groups of people, especially the poor.
Jackson also disputed the notion that America needs to be made great again, a slogan President Donald Trump used in his campaign. Jackson said the country is the best it has ever been, but could be made even greater if opposing groups realize what they have in common and work together.
“We didn’t know how good baseball could be until everybody could play,” he said.
Jackson spoke on a range of issues Friday, from voting rights to controversy over the national anthem at the NFL, before he addressed the NAACP conference. The conference continues Saturday with Barber giving his final State of the State on Civil Rights address at 9:45 a.m. and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) giving the keynote speech at a ticketed luncheon. “NewsOne Now” host Roland Martin is the keynote speaker at a ticketed banquet in the evening.
Here are excerpts:
Confederate statues. “These statues must come down. (They) shouldn’t have gone up,” Jackson said. He noted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was not buried in his uniform and that he discouraged commemorations of the battles of the Civil War.
Voting rights. Jackson compared many elements of American civil life, including elections, to sports, saying that black citizens are not asking for gerrymandered districts that would give them an unfair advantage. “A level playing field” is what people want, he said, where the rules are clear, they apply to everyone the same and the referees are fair.
Jackson said voting must be made a right in the U.S. Constitution, not left as a matter of states’ rights. He said the country needs to follow the examples of 10 states and the District of Columbia that have made voter registration automatic. Eligible residents who interact with government agencies are registered to vote, unless they decline, and agencies transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials. The policy boosts voter registration rates and reduces the risk for voter fraud, proponents say.
NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem. When Trump denounced NFL players and said they were being disrespectful of the flag, the president “sent people down the wrong road,” Jackson said. Taking a knee never was about the flag, Jackson said. Players who kneel during the anthem are protesting racial disparity, and if they are forced by the league or team owners to stand, the racial disparities will still remain.
Religion and politics. People of faith are called to be politically active, Jackson said, adding that, “When the cross is above the flag, it has transformative power.” Churches and their members must work to rise above cultural fears, he said, and fight for what is morally right.
“Culture says to love people who love you,” he said. “Jesus says, ‘Love your enemy.’ ”
Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Jackson called the increase in hurricanes and tropical storms “self-induced” because world leaders are not doing enough to prevent global warning. He also criticized Trump’s handling of the crisis in Puerto Rico, where as of Friday – two weeks after being battered by Hurricane Maria – more than 90 percent of residents still have no power and only about half have drinkable water. Though it’s a U.S. territory, Jackson said, Americans treat Puerto Ricans as foreigners.
“We should have a massive air lifts right now,” he said, with generators and other emergency supplies being taken in.
African-Americans in Silicon Valley. Jackson said there needs to be a pipeline established between Silicon Valley on the West Coast and the historically black colleges and universities on the East Coast to diversify the tech workforce. He cited his alma mater, North Carolina A&T, which he said graduates about 42 black engineers per year.
The 74th annual State Convention of the North Carolina NAACP continues Saturday, Oct. 7. For details, go to naacpnc.org. For tickets, email email@example.com
9:45 a.m. The Rev. William J. Barber II will give his final State of the State on Civil Rights address at the Raleigh Convention Center. The event is open to the public.
1:30 p.m. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker will give the keynote address at a ticketed luncheon. Tickets are $45.
7 p.m. Roland Martin of TV One’s “NewsOne Now” will speak at the Freedom Funds Awards Banquet. Tickets are $65.