BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Sunday, 30 November 2008

Obama 'redeems our nation's soul'

On Sunday 30 November, Andrew Marr interviewed The Reverend Jesse Jackson

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

The civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson talks about his hopes for the new US President.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson

ANDREW MARR: Now anyone who watched Barack Obama's election victory speech may well remember those images of an emotional Reverend Jesse Jackson in the crowd.

There must have been a lot for him to take in. He was leader in the Civil Rights Movement, his links with Martin Luther King, the two presidential campaigns.

It could be argued indeed that it was Jesse Jackson who set the trail for Obama. But even so, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has not always been an Obama fan and when I spoke to him a little earlier this morning, I asked him what was going through his mind listening to that historic victory speech.

JESSE JACKSON: It was both the joy of the moment and the journey. The joy was to think of we just had the right to vote as African Americans forty-three years and how we have advanced, how white America has changed. Those who once did not have the right to vote were voting for us that night. Those who once blocked school doors are now recruiting us.

And so white America is changing in very profound ways and African American and Latinos are achieving in very new and different ways. I could not help but think about children in the villages of Kenya and the Congo and squalor in South Africa and in Haiti, and even yes in Europe people, some without television, listening on the radio in the moment of great anticipation. And so I felt some sense of their joy running through my body. And then the journey itself. Since Dr King was killed, we did not concede to the killing. We said one bullet will not kill a whole movement.

We did not complain and threaten to go backwards. We went forward by working, registering voters and building coalitions and demonstrating and litigating and more civil rights laws. And so Barack, President Barack Obama really ran the last lap of a 54 year race. He is a strong finish in that race to make America a more perfect union and to redeem our nation's soul.

ANDREW MARR: And do you feel that it's going to change the way America is seen around the world?

JESSE JACKSON: Well undoubtedly. You know you come to a time when there's a crisis, almost a civilisational crisis of trust in our nation, within the nation. President Bush has extremely low ratings because trust has been exhausted.

The Congress seems to have been complicitous in his foreign policy and the misadventure into Iraq and then our economic collapse. The Wall Street bankers seem to have lost trust in the sense that they appear to have chosen excess and greed. And so when there is such a darkness in distrust, Barack emerges as one who can be trusted.

He's like a light in contrast to that darkness and so his capacity to engender hope and trust and to be a source of redemption makes him uniquely fit for the moment. And the darker it gets, the brighter his light shines. And so to that extent, you think about Barack, you think about trust and hope and redemption, so I think the man and his times have converged rather prophetically.

ANDREW MARR: And yet you were slightly critical of him during earlier stages in the campaign. Do you feel he associated himself enough with the African American cause?

JESSE JACKSON: Well he embodies that with his very being, his very family. He's a constitutional lawyer, he's a civil rights lawyer, and so he issues that matter of substance. He is there. What he did was more profoundly bring about a huge coalition of those who'd been left out with the African Americans, with the huge 95% vote, two thirds of the young vote, the female vote, a 40 plus percent white vote.

So melding together that coalition was a delicate situation and he did it. And it says a lot about him, but also a lot about America itself changing. And America in many ways is changing for the better. There are things that we saw this last year that we had not seen before. So when Michelle Obama says, for example, "For the first time, I'm proud of America", that was attacked as non-patriotic. It was not.

She was saying I've never seen whites respond to blacks this way. You respond to blacks on the athletic field, whether soccer or football or basketball or baseball or track, but now you're responding to us politically. And that she saw as a breakthrough moment and in many ways it was.

ANDREW MARR: And yet I mean Colin Powell has made the point that for instance he didn't associate himself, Barack Obama, with the more radical part of the Black Movement - yourself, Al Sharpton, people who'd been coming up through the movement for so long.

JESSE JACKSON: Well I'm not sure what radical is. Thurgood Marshall when he won the lawsuit to end legal race, the premise was seen as a radical. Radicals do what? Change the roots of things. Dr King was seen as a radical.

To knock down the walls, you had to be willing to confront and risk and be bloodied and martyred and even to die. I think about President Reagan saying in Berlin, "Tear down that wall." It's a radical idea - tear down that wall - because you cannot get to the bridge until the wall comes down.

So those who had to be the demolition crew, those who fought to bring down the legal walls when race supremacy and by extension gender supremacy was legal, those who have fought to end public accommodation, denial, the legal apartheid had to tear down the walls. And we were jailed and our allies were murdered in the process. Now when the walls come down, then Barack's generation can build the bridge.

To build the bridge from the bricks that came from the wall that fell, the many whites who confronted us at the bridge now embrace us at the bridge and so it is a different stage of the same struggle. I repeat that without the building blocks of the 54th Supreme Court decision to make racism illegal, without the King's work to tear down those walls, then today's achievement would not be possible.

ANDREW MARR: Couldn't have happened.

JESSE JACKSON: So the idea of dividing us radical, voracious, those who are less so, to me is a kind of foolish division.

ANDREW MARR: And what about the choices that President-elect Obama has made so far for his Cabinet, the people around him? Quite a lot of old guard people there. Quite a lot of Clinton people, quite a lot of Conservative voices there as well.

JESSE JACKSON: He's re-treading some fairly successful people. After all, President Clinton was the President with the lowest unemployment in the century. We had economic growth, we had more world outreach.

We were more accepted in the world. Today, given the debacle in Iraq where we lost lives and money and honour, we chose corrupted Iraqi exiles over UN inspectors.

We lost a lot of the capital as it were. In some sense, Hillary Clinton represents a new day in our resurgence, so whether she goes to South Africa or whether she comes to London or whether she goes to France or goes to Australia, she's accepted and recognised.

And so bringing in the most politically smart and morally smart and good foundations healing internally, it seems that bringing in people he feels he can trust. And we're in a tremendous economic crisis. The banks are collapsing, we're losing a million jobs last year because of manufacturing trade policies and so...

ANDREW MARR: So this is a man with a huge weight of expectation now on his shoulders?

JESSE JACKSON: But it's not just upon his shoulders. The Congress, his expectations upon the Congress. He puts forth a vision to bridge building to salvage the automotive industry around which one in every ten American jobs rotate.

That is an attempt to stop the haemorrhaging of industry, manufacturing and jobs. And then he seeks to reinvest 700 billion in a re-industralisation, rebuilding bridges, roads and sewers. That's the right idea. The Congress must embrace that idea and, a) to stop the haemorrhaging of jobs and, b) to create new jobs.

ANDREW MARR: Talking about the expectations, not the least of these is security. We've just seen these appalling attacks in Mumbai.

JESSE JACKSON: The attack in Mumbai represents something dangerous and ugly in the world. It means that the 9/11 Wall Street, Pentagon type attack in America is now seen taking place, that kind of organised terror in Mumbai. And what struck me as immensely ugly about it was the attempt to pit Pakistan against India, which is a confrontation that must not occur.

And to target UK citizens and to target US citizens as countrymen and then attack Jews as a religion, as a people, which means that the Jews must be on alert worldwide so that we reach out today to Americans and to British citizens and to Indians and to Jewish persons to be on alert. Because the struggle to end terror, to end the despicable killing of innocent people, we must not wait. We must be watchful in that struggle.

ANDREW MARR: It's been said here by some prominent black voices that we could not in this country have a British Obama; that actually despite the very different history, the barriers are even greater in this country. What's your take on that?

JESSE JACKSON: Well the issue's not can you have a British Obama, can you have Brits who act like American whites who broke gender and race as the basis for making a vote. Brits can pull for blacks on the soccer field or pull for blacks to be the heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis.

Can Brits vote for a black to be Prime Minister if he has those body of qualifications? And that is what's different. It's not that African Americans really changed. We reached out. I mean Dr Dubois reached out, but faced rejection and incrimination. Thurgood Marshall reached out and faced rejection.

Dr King reached out. But now you see the maturing of our nation and so if we learn to play ball together and to go to school together and fight war together, and now we're learning to vote together. And that is the changing of America, so the question; can the blacks qualify? Will Brits rise above a culture of unfounded fear and affirm someone who has those capacities?

ANDREW MARR: Jesse Jackson, thank you very much.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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