Jesse Jackson is known for making news. Hold any kind of political event and you're likely to find Jackson there. From hostages overseas to D.C. statehood, Jackson is an ever-present voice. And there was a time when, if Jackson said ''march'', people marched.
Those days may be gone forever.
The March to Justice was held on Friday, September 13 in Washington D.C. Jackson was there, marching on crutches. The Rainbow Coalition/Operation PUSH was there. NOW was there. The AFL/CIO was there. The ACLU was there. LULAC was there. The Arab American Institute was there. The Progressive Jewish Alliance was there. Students for Affirmative Action were there. Students from Howard University were there. Up to 22 groups and organization sent marchers.
Approximately 300 of them, by one estimate.
They marched from Freedom Plaza to the corner at the door of the Justice Department. And when they arrived, there was plenty of room for everyone.
But the general public in Washington D.C. seemed to know nothing about the rally. Police officers and security personnel near the rally point or the march route denied knowledge of any rally or march being held that day. One officer directing traffic near the ellipse said it was extremely unusual. ''They usually make sure we know about anything like that going on,'' he said.
A press release sent out approximately a week beforehand stated that the march would set off from the ellipse, a grassy area just behind the White House. Later releases changed the kick-off to Freedom Plaza, approximately two blocks away. That might have been because, at noon, the time of the kick-off, President Bush's helicopter was just touching down behind the White House as he returned from his speech to the UN.
Perhaps his handlers felt it would strike a sour note if the reporters covering his triumphant return could simply turn their cameras in the opposite direction to see a small sea of waving placards. Or perhaps Jackson's people realized that their small group would be swallowed up in the enormity of empty grassland known as the ellipse.
In any case, Bush was able to land without the sight of protestors disturbing his utopian view and the protestors could assemble on a scale more suited to their numbers.
But if the numbers were small, the rhetoric wasn't. After a small raft of speakers, Jackson finally took the podium.
The earlier speakers were incensed about everything from the detention of immigrants without due process to an unpopular judicial candidate, but most agreed that the policies and programs of the current administration were harmful to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution itself. Jackson's speech drew all their concerns together.
He started with 9-11 and a moment of silence. Then he spoke of the Word Trade Center and his group's personal link to it. Then, invoking Lincoln, he declared Ground Zero to be ''hallowed ground''.
He called for a move from fear to hope, saying that fear was being ''recycled'' by the media. But he also said that the budget was being driven by fear, into an increasing deficit, while ''children are left behind, schools face cutbacks, public health suffers, wages are stagnant, pensions are lost.''
''We have checkpoints; TIPS; amateur spy programs; citizens held in jail; a badly-named Department of Homeland Security.''
''But America,'' he continued, ''at its best, is about hope, not fear.''
''We are gathered here today,'' Jackson continued, ''to remind the President-Select and the Attorney General that America is a Big Tent, not a pup tent.''
''We have come together,'' he said, ''because John Sweeney and Andy Stern and Dennis Rivera have been locked out of the White House. Because N.O.W. has been locked out of the Justice Department. Because the NAACP has been ignored on election reform, the Sierra Club has been frozen out of White House energy policy, and LULAC has been exiled on immigration reform.''
He said that those locked out were a majority of America. ''The White House is supposed to be our house too,'' he said. ''It's not privatization, it is public housing.''
Jackson then issued a laundry-list of causes prompting the march, including economic justice, civil rights, equality for women, health care for all, a clean environment, respect for the United Nations and International Law.
''We march today,'' he said, ''because we have been locked out too often, and silent too long.''
He reminded the crowd that ''This is a democracy, still. The President has the platform; we have the power,'' and added that the war-talk seemed to be the White House's way of ''changing the subject'', which Jackson felt should still be on ''Enron, WorldCom, Halliburton and corporate corruption,'' as well as ''the disappearing surplus and the gap between the surplus and the deficit culture.''
''The subject,'' he said, ''is healthcare, not Hussein,'' and ''the Bill of Rights, not the right to invade without warning; global warming, not global war.''
''The subject,'' he said, ''is Congress this November.''
And that might be the real point to Jackson's ''stealth rally''. While not highly publicized beforehand or heavily attended, it is the first of several such rallies planned across the country in the next several months, mainly at college campuses. But more pointedly, being held between September and November.
''In November, we vote,'' Jackson said, ''to honor the democracy that the terrorists failed to kill. We vote in honor of the democracy that Enron campaign contributions and corporate crimes have wounded, but not slain. We register and vote to honor the Constitution that a partisan Supreme Court injured in Florida, but did not kill.''
''This fall,'' he said, ''we must cast every vote-- and count every vote, even in Florida.''
Toward the end of his speech, Jackson said, ''Today we march for peace and justice. Tomorrow we register and mobilize. In November we vote together. We can win.''
But first, he's going to have to get a few more people to march. And, given the turnout on September 13, that might be the real challenge Jackson, and the nation, faces.
It remains to be seen whether this rally is the tip of the iceberg, or the prow of the Titanic, disappearing beneath an ocean of indifference.
On September 13th a coalition of Democratic constituency groups trotted out the faithful in protest of what they deemed to be the Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft frontal assault on America's civil and Constitutional rights. They did this with a march from the Ellipse in D.C. to the front door of the Justice Department. Once there marchers showed their anger with the administration by symbolically tacking a list of rights violation to the department's door.
While photographing ''the little march that couldn't'' a few things popped to mind that I'd like to share.
1. Nobody -- or at least near to nobody -- cares if the American government tramples the rights of ''rag-head Americans'' or any of their traitorous ACLU-type cohorts. This was readily shown by the dismal lack of attendance at the march. When some of the nation's largest lobby groups give marching orders and only 350 heed the call, it shows that this is simply not a cause that anyone cares about.
2. News and editorial types say that Americans appear ready to trade in civil and constitutional rights for security. Can I correct that? It isn't a trade for security. It's a trade for the promise, guise or illusion of security. Unfortunately, it's probably not a promise that can be kept. If Israel is not able to assure its security through increased social militarization I doubt we'll be able to do it either.
3. There was an exact moment when Rome went from being a republic to being an empire and a fixed date when Germany transformed into the despotic tyranny which preyed both on its neighbors and its citizenry's worst fears and prejudices. With that in mind a tip of the hat to my 7th grade Social Sciences teacher, Mr. Swanson. Perhaps he was right: history wasn't then. History is now. But we can still hope not.
4. Martin Luther helped start a new faith with two things: an innovative message and big, fat huevos. If what I heard and saw at the rally were any indication no new faith will be springing out of the Democratic rhetoric anytime soon. In fact, if anyone said anything innovative they sure as hell didn't say it while in front of a mike. As for huevos, well, if I wanted to show the country that my beliefs were rock solid I would do what Luther did -- risk the ire and abuse of my foes in service to said beliefs. I'd tack a statement of them directly onto the belly of the beast. I would NOT go to the local home improvement department and buy parts to assemble a ''symbolic'' official door, stencil ''Department of Justice'' on it and then tack my concerns to it. At the least, if organizers had been smart they could have gotten Menards to donate the door, frame, paint and stenciling in exchange for co-sponsorship of this debacle. As a bonus maybe one of the stores in the D.C. area might have sent a half dozen or so of their floor mooks to help swell the ranks of marchers. The bottom line? Martin Luther will continue to be remembered. This march will not.
5. When Jesse Jackson asks three Howard University coeds up on the stage for a join-hands type prayer circle DO NOT run off to share this bit of irony, asking your friend ''Gee, didn't the first time teach Jesse anything?'' Because your friend is very likely to say ''Eh, maybe that's how he auditions them.'' And then a nearby man in a suit will likely bend over to the middle-aged black woman sharing the bench with your buddy and say ''Excuse me, Mrs. Jackson, but can I have a word with you?'' Well, at least that's how it happened to us.
6. From what I hear, magicians trick people in part by diverting them. If you can focus the audience's attention over there, then they won't see what you're really doing over here. That thought sort of makes me wonder, if officials are all jumping up and down pointing frantically towards the Middle East with its insane bombers and fascist leader then what is it exactly they are diverting attention from? Halliburton and Kenneth Lay come immediately to mind, but what else might we be missing?