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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 12:10 GMT
An audience with Rev Jesse Jackson
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

Jesse Jackson gets standing ovation as he enters hall
Jesse Jackson is regarded by some as a civil rights hero
There aren't many people who can get a standing ovation just for entering a room but the Reverend Jesse Jackson is one of them.

The veteran US civil rights campaigner and political activist recruited by a UK campaign group to help mobilise ethnic minorities to vote drew a rapturous welcome from a capacity audience at a London rally.

But Operation Black Vote (OBV), which aims to increase ethnic minority political participation and representation, did not get Jesse Jackson on side for its 'Politics of Power' event just for his charismatic personality.

In 1984 Mr Jackson founded the National Rainbow Coalition devoted to political empowerment, education and changing public policy.

He has inspired to me to want to vote
Janet Wharton
During his 1984 presidential campaign his organisation registered over one million new voters. During his 1988 campaign that figure rose to over two million new voters.

After the rapturous welcome, Jesse Jackson did not disappoint as he delivered what he called his "hands across the ocean" address.

"Connecting our families in the diaspora can unleash the power of a creative minority, sharing history and experiences," he said.

'Use your power'

Reverend Jackson's roots as a preacher were clear from the outset as he led the audience in a rousing chant.

Jesse Jackson called ethnic minority voters "political giants"

When he demanded: "Let me hear you scream", the audience responded enthusiastically.

It set the tone for his 45-minute oration - a polished performance encompassing the African slave trade, his deprived boyhood in South Carolina, the war in Iraq and UK issues.

It elicited applause and cheers at regular intervals from his audience in the manner of an evangelical church service.

The breadth of his knowledge impressed one listener, Peter Mwaniki, from north London.

"I liked the fact that he had a great grasp of history and current affairs and he used a lot of fact and figures which helped me to get some sort of context on what he was saying," Mr Mwaniki said.

100,000 new voters can change the course of Britain and its politics and its priorities
Reverend Jesse Jackson
Throughout the historical and contemporary references, Jesse Jackson's repeated mantra was "use your vote".

"Use your power to change the course of this world and this nation.

"Vote for your share of power, your share of management, your share of education," Reverend Jackson said.


Mr Jackson told his audience Britain's ethnic minorities were "political giants" able to sway the outcome of many parliamentary seats.

And he drew comparison with previous US presidential elections.

"In 1992 and 1996 Bush and Dole got more white votes than Clinton. But Clinton got more black and brown votes than they got and he won."

"The point is 100,000 new voters can change the course of Britain and its politics and its priorities," he said referring to OBV's campaign to register 100,000 ethnic minority voters before the next election.

It was one of the most amazing events I've been to in my life
Helen Hilton

It seemed, however, Jesse Jackson had been preaching mainly to the converted. Few in the room admitted to not being registered to vote.

But with persistent prodding from Mr Jackson some people were persuaded to leave their seats and approach the stage to be given voter registration forms from the OBV team.

One previously non-voting audience member said afterwards Jesse Jackson's efforts had had the desired effect in her case.

"He has inspired me to want to vote. It was just the encouragement he gave and I feel more enlightened now," Janet Wharton said.

Another listener, Helen Hilton, said Mr Jackson's performance had been "dynamic".

"There was lots of energy, positivity and love. It was one of the most amazing events I've been to in my life," Ms Hilton said.

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