Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Shelly Ross

Moving Toward Higher Ground: The Politics of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition

First Published: Forward, No. 4, January 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Jesse Jackson’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is one of the most significant developments in U.S. politics. As a campaign rooted in the struggle of African Americans for full democracy and political power, it not only united the vast majority of African Americans but also struck a chord among progressive people of other nationalities. The Jackson candidacy brought out the importance of the Black vote to the Democratic Party and demonstrated the potential of a broad, multinational progressive coalition.

This article will examine the dynamics of this historic campaign and explore its impact on U.S. society and the further development of the progressive movement.

Roots of the candidacy

The Jackson candidacy arose on very fertile ground. What made his candidacy possible was the tremendous desire among African Americans for an end to racism and national oppression, for equality and self-determination, for full democracy and political power. These revolutionary democratic sentiments were the fuel for Jackson’s candidacy.

Jackson, a leader in the Black movement since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, was perceptive enough to understand that the masses were ready to support a Black presidential candidate, that they wanted someone to articulate issues long on their minds and in their hearts. As Jackson went to the South in the summer of 1983 to spur voter registration, he found a receptive reaction to his call: “From the slaveship to the championship. From the outhouse to the statehouse. Our time has come!”

More than a mesmerizing call to action, Jackson’s message carried a deep concern for the fate of Black people under the onslaught of the Reagan administration. After three years of Reaganism, Black unemployment was at Depression levels. Twenty percent of Black adults were unemployed. Fifty percent of Black teenagers could not find jobs. Black unemployment was almost three times that of the national average. Poverty was rising at an alarming rate. One out of every three African Americans was living below the poverty level. Over a five-year period, Reagan had ordered a record $280 billion cut in social service programs, using the cuts in welfare, health and education programs to boost military spending to a record $1.6 trillion.

In the area of civil rights, the Reagan administration, through its 17-month delay in accepting key 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, publicized its resistance to justice and equality. Denial of the right to vote by obstacles such as dual registration (the requirement that one register in both the city and county seat) and inaccessible registrars, plus dilution of the Black vote by gerrymandering (placing the boundaries of a legislative district in a way to divide potential Black majorities), second primaries (run-off elections to declare a winner by majority vote) and at-large elections, effectively disenfranchised and disempowered African Americans and other minorities. Though 53% of all African Americans live in the South, there are only two Black congresspeople from the South. There are 57 congressional districts where African Americans constitute 20% or more of the population, but there are only 20 Black people in Congress. In 1978, African Americans were the majority in 29 cities, but they had no Black elected officials because their vote was diluted by gerrymandering and at-large elections. Thus, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits obstacles to voting and representation, became the cornerstone of Jackson’s platform. Without unleashing the potent Black vote, there would be little chance of progressive change in the South.

Sentiment for Jackson’s presidential bid continued to build as crowds shouted, “Run, Jesse, Run,” wherever he appeared. In July 1983, a group of 125 prominent Black ministers formed a “Draft Jesse” committee which solicited one million signatures calling for Jackson to run for president. The ministers also pledged to raise $1 million for the Jackson campaign.

Finally, on November 3, 1983, Jackson announced his candidacy, launching one of the most progressive campaigns in recent history. Shortly after his declaration, campaign organizations were initiated in 25 states.

Articulating the Rainbow agenda

When Jackson declared his candidacy, he outlined the major themes and strategy of his campaign. First, he vowed to build a Rainbow Coalition of the rejected and to restore “a moral tone, a redemptive spirit and a sensitivity to the poor and dispossessed of this nation.” His primary message was that the concerns and needs of the poor and disenfranchised had been trampled by the Reagan administration and needed to be brought forward before the U.S. public. Thus, Jackson injected the issues of race, exploitation, discrimination, unemployment, immigration and recognition of the interests and needs of the third world nations into a campaign that had focused on the moderate and conservative politics of Mondale and Glenn, who were moving just slightly to the left of Reagan.

Furthermore, Jackson set as a goal changing and enlarging the Democratic Party. In his November 3 speech, Jackson said, “The new covenant we seek with the Democratic Party is one that provides full parity for Blacks and other elements of our Rainbow Coalition. Specifically, we will demand an end to the widespread practice of segregated slate-making in national, state and local elections; we will demand an end to all forms of voting rights impediments. We will demand that the party move aggressively to discipline or replace boll weevils in the Congress . . . and help to elect more Blacks, Hispanics and more women to the House of Representatives and the Senate.” These themes were expanded upon throughout the campaign and formed the core of his demands to Mondale after the Democratic Convention.

Thus, Jackson’s goal was not simply to win the Democratic nomination or to run a credible campaign, but to present a political agenda that could rally African Americans by appealing to their aspirations for justice and political power, and in turn form the core of a new, multinational progressive movement. Building this mass base would enable Jackson to wring more concessions and greater influence from the Democratic Party, which had long taken Black people and other minorities for granted.

Following his announcement, Jackson embarked on a nationwide speaking tour to increase voter registration and to raise much needed campaign funds. During this period, the media dismissed his campaign as an insignificant but colorful sideshow. Largely regarded as an attempt by Jackson to become recognized as the single Black leader in the U.S., some political observers even said that Jackson’s bid could damage Black people’s goals of defeating Reagan by siphoning off votes from Mondale, the front runner. The media promoted Black bourgeois leaders such as Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, and Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, who strongly opposed the Jackson candidacy. They argued that it wasn’t time for a Black presidential bid, that such a bid would divert needed funds from other winnable races. But this opposition did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the Black masses, who agreed with Jackson that their time had come!

The opposition of these Black establishment leaders reflected their own allegiance to the white Democratic Party leaders and their own detachment from the feelings of the Black masses. Jackson’s campaign performed a vital service in advancing the national sentiments of the African American people for democracy as it in fact turned out to be a referendum on traditional bourgeois leadership versus reform/progressive politics.

Launching the campaign

The Jackson campaign began with high ideals, but little cash. Because of the lateness of his announcement, the Jackson campaign had to play catch-up from the jump. Because he would not accept any corporate donations, nor PAC (Political Action Committee) money, Jackson had to rely on grass-roots fund raising, which trickled in mainly from the churches and community groups. The African Methodist Church, with 2.2 million members, pledged to raise $250,000. The National Baptist Church, with 6.8 million members, pledged $100,000. Although the lack of money slowed Jackson’s ability to print campaign literature or hire staff, inexperience also hampered the development of the campaign. A campaign manager was not hired until weeks after the campaign began. Very few national staff were hired to help organize the various regions of the country. Thus, the campaign often varied from state to state. Some states did not have any organization and relied upon visits by Jackson to turn out the votes; other states established networks and constituency groups to publicize the campaign and get out the vote.

The lack of attention paid to the grass-roots organizing, partially due to the lack of funds, but also due to a lack of priority, was a weakness of the Jackson organization. Compounding the weakness was Jackson’s tendency towards spontaneity. The campaign schedule was often set at the last minute and subject to radical change, leaving organizers with a large audience but no candidate. Such spontaneity on Jackson’s part reflected his individualistic, petty bourgeois class background, which did not place the first consideration upon the impact of his actions on other people.

But inexperience and lack of funds were only some of the contributing factors to the campaign’s disorganization. The petty bourgeois and national bourgeois leaders within the campaign were reluctant to build a genuine mass movement, which could eventually supplant them. Among the Jackson inner circle were elements of the Black national bourgeoisie, Black professional political operatives, and leaders from the Black churches. Several of the leaders were longtime associates from PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity, Jackson’s civil rights organization based in Chicago). Two key leaders were Arnold Pinkney, stockholder and board member of Cleveland’s First Bank, and John Bustamonte, Jackson’s lawyer and a real estate developer and newspaper publisher. Pinkney has a long history in Cleveland politics with the Stokes brothers (Louis Stokes, a U.S. congressman, and Carl Stokes, mayor of Cleveland) and served in the Humphrey for President campaign in 1968.

Jackson also drew from Black political operatives to form the core of his staff. Ernest Green, former Undersecretary of Labor in the Carter administration, was a top-level political adviser, as was Lamont Goodwin, another former official in the Carter administration. Preston Love, the deputy campaign manager, was an aide to Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and had served in the Harold Washington campaign. Finally, there was Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, Indiana, who served as national campaign chairman. Hatcher played a seminal role in Black electoral politics as the co-chair along with Amiri Baraka of the 1972 Black Political Assembly.

Numerous ministers had access to the inner circle. Bishop H.H. Brookins of the African Methodist Church was another of Jackson’s close confidants.

Black nationalists were also part of the campaign, represented on the left by the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, leader of the National Black United Front, and on the right by Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

The Jackson campaign included a very varied group of individuals from the worlds of business, politics and religion, but it was led by the candidate, Jesse L. Jackson. Jackson has historically represented the interests of the Black petty bourgeoisie (Black professionals, small merchants, businessmen, ministers) and the national wing of the Black bourgeoisie (Black capitalists). Both classes suffer national oppression at the hands of the white monopoly capitalists, who block the Black capitalists from consolidating and expanding their control of the Black economy and who prevent the Black petty bourgeoisie from advancing beyond a middle-level status. The national wing of the Black bourgeoisie sees advancing its interest by leading the mass movement to remove the legal and social restrictions that discriminate against all Black people. Without the support of the African American workers, the national wing of the Black bourgeoisie would have little bargaining power with the white monopoly capitalists. At different times, this sector of the Black bourgeoisie objectively fights against monopoly capitalism and can play a positive role. Jackson has always favored the development of Black capitalism as a means of solving the economic oppression of African Americans. The purpose of Operation Breadbasket, a project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and later PUSH, was to bring corporate investments into the ghettos to enable Black people to “raise themselves by their own bootstraps.” Later, Jackson became recognized for negotiating economic covenants with major corporations by using the threat of a Black consumer boycott to pressure corporations to establish hiring and training programs for African Americans. While these efforts brought some jobs to the poor and publicized the plight of the Black ghetto, these programs, in themselves, were inadequate to meet the fundamental problems.

In the course of the campaign, Jackson expanded his political vision and addressed a broad agenda, which encompassed domestic and foreign policy. In many ways, he took his followers, especially his inner circle of ministers, into new territory as he linked issues such as unemployment with overseas investment, the environmental issues with the nuclear arms race, and so on.

The campaign takes off

Jackson’s stature as a serious presidential contender skyrocketed with his January visit to Syria, which won the release of Navy flier Lt. Robert Goodman. The trip demonstrated Jackson’s ability to negotiate at the international level, but most importantly bore out the validity of his foreign policy views. By stressing dialogue and fair play to all nations in the Middle East, Jackson proved that the U.S. did not have to be locked into an adversarial relationship with the Arab nations. Millions of people were exposed to Jackson’s message of peace and recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland. The dramatic release of Lt. Goodman opened the way for a more serious and sympathetic examination of Jackson’s views, especially by white people.

At this point, Jackson began winning more white support in opinion polls. In February, the Boston Globe’s poll of New Hampshire voters placed Jackson with 16% of the vote in a state where Black people are only one percent of the population.

Jackson stood head and shoulders above the other candidates on the peace issue. Jackson’s platform called for no first use of nuclear weapons, a stand the other candidates were unwilling to take, although they claimed the mantle of peace candidates. Jackson opposed the MX missile, the B-l bomber, the neutron bomb and deployment of the Pershing and cruise missiles in Western Europe. Alone among the candidates, Jackson called for a 20-25% cut in the military budget.

Jackson also linked the issue of peace to the fight for social justice, specifically the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. “I aim to help elect 10,000 candidates to local, state and congressional office through the registration of disaffected voters, reform party rules that keep minority and female candidates away from the reins of power, and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act,” said Jackson in a position statement on arms control. “In this and the mid-term election (1986), if I am successful in this strategy, we will shake boll weevils and other conservatives out and bring in members of a Rainbow Coalition committed to peace, an end to rampant military growth, and a reordering of national priorities.” Jackson’s peace plank was enthusiastically received in the Black community, which clearly saw that tax monies saved on obsolete missiles could be spent on jobs, education and health programs. His strategy also gave peace activists a way to actually accomplish long-sought goals such as passing the nuclear freeze.

The New England races

Jackson emphasized foreign policy in the New England races, as he targeted the white liberal vote. Jackson spoke out strongly against military intervention in the third world, protested the use of U.S. troops in Central America and the funding of contra forces to subvert the Nicaraguan government. Jackson’s defense policy statement declared, “We should not – indeed cannot afford to – defend illegitimate regimes from their own people. Our long-term strategic interests are undermined by tying our nation to commitments to a Marcos in the Philippines, a Zia ul Haq in Pakistan, or a Somoza in Nicaragua . . . We should seek to stand with the poor and needy, rather than with the greedy or the corrupt.”

Jackson’s call for the removal of more than 350 U.S. firms doing business with South Africa and a prohibition on new investments by U.S. corporations also drew support in the Black community and among white progressives. Jackson’s positions and their popular acceptance forced the other candidates towards more progressive positions. Mondale, for example, finally made a statement on April 5 that called for a cutoff of new investments by U.S. firms in South Africa if there was no progress in ending human rights violations. This example was typical of what occurred as the other candidates had to move to the left in order to keep up with Jackson. Jackson’s positions, characterized by conservative commentators as radical, were being accepted by many people in the U.S. and showed that people were ready for a sharp alternative to Reagan.

In this early phase of the campaign, Jackson’s outreach to white liberals paid off with surprisingly good showings. In Iowa, the first caucus, with little organizing and only a two percent Black population, Jackson won three percent of the vote. Jackson’s strong showing stunned Glenn, who had spent millions of dollars, only to beat Jackson narrowly. In New Hampshire, Jackson won eight percent of the vote even though Black people are only one percent of the population. In Maine’s caucus, Jackson beat Glenn and came in fourth behind McGovern.

Just as Jackson was beginning to make inroads among white liberals, the Hymie controversy was whipped up by the media. Jackson’s ethnic slur against Jews reflected his nationalist tendencies and his petty bourgeois class background. But while others in U.S. politics have made racist remarks like Jimmy Carter’s “ethnic purity” statement or Ernest Holling’s characterization of Latinos as “wetbacks,” they were not pilloried as much as Jackson. Following Jackson’s apology, the media continued to fan up the controversy, aiming to drive a wedge between whites and Afro-Americans. Jackson’s small but growing white support declined as weak-hearted white liberals switched over to Hart, who projected himself as a Kennedyesque liberal, while also making hawkish noises about strengthening the military.

Jackson’s Southern victories

Following this promising but rocky beginning, the Jackson campaign really took off with major victories on Super Tuesday (March 13) and Super Saturday (March 17). As Jackson entered the Southern races, his showing improved with the support of the Black masses. On Super Tuesday, Jackson beat Glenn and McGovern in Florida, Rhode Island and Georgia, and came in a strong third in those states. Most importantly, Jackson demonstrated his ability to win the majority of the Black vote, despite campaigning by Black leaders such as Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Coretta Scott King, and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. Jackson won 63% of the Black vote in Georgia, 54% in Alabama, and 51% in Florida.

On Super Saturday, Jackson did even better. He won the caucus in South Carolina with 34% of the vote and won the Mississippi caucus. Jackson came in second to Mondale in Kentucky.

Jackson’s victories and solid support among Black voters showed their deep identification with the Jackson campaign as an expression of the fight for democracy and freedom. Not even the accommodationist Black Mondale surrogates, many of whom are tied to the ruling class via foundation money or to the Democratic Party establishment, could turn the masses away from Jackson. Jackson did especially well among rural Black people and among poor and young Black people.

Jackson’s victories in the South were significant demonstrations of the power of the Black vote. Jackson’s popular votes in South Carolina and Mississippi far exceeded Reagan’s 11,000-vote margin of victory in the 1980 election.

The enthusiasm of Black voters was unquestionable. Black voter turnout rose to unprecedented levels. In Georgia, Black voter turnout was 40-50% in contrast to 28% statewide. Because of the high turnout, Georgia Black people, who constitute 20.6% of the state’s registered voters, accounted for 34% of the vote, according to exit polls. In Alabama, Black people are 22.5% of the voters but accounted for 35% of the vote. Black voter turnout, combined with declining white registration, could spell an end to the Republican victories in the South.

The size and concentration of the Black vote in the South made it strategic both for the Jackson candidacy and for the overall struggle for self-determination for the African American Nation in the Black-belt South. Voter registration campaigns and the thrust for Black empowerment push forward the mobilization of the masses and fuel the demands for greater and greater democracy. This is a direct challenge to the ruling class, which has long depended upon a small Black electorate (imposed by voting restrictions) and dilution of the Black vote to enforce plantation politics. Of the estimated 17.8 million African Americans of voting age, 41% are not registered to vote. Nearly 675,000 Black people registered between 1980 and June 1984, a tremendous increase. An additional two million Black voters was the targeted goal for fall 1984.

After the March races, Jackson continued to win the Black vote and increased his margin of victory. In Illinois, Jackson won 79% of the Black vote and came in first in Chicago with 41% of the total vote. On April 3, Jackson won 80% of the Black vote in the New York primary. Jackson came in second in New York City with 33% of the vote and came within two percentage points of beating Hart for second place. Jackson won the popular vote in Philadelphia with 77% of the vote, despite Black Mayor Wilson Goode’s endorsement of Mondale. In addition, Jackson continued to do well in the South. He won the Virginia caucus and placed second in Texas.

Despite these victories in the popular vote, Jackson continued to be denied his fair share of delegates. Under the Democratic Party rules, Jackson had to receive 20-30% of the vote in a congressional or legislative district and statewide in order to qualify for delegates. Although Jackson had won 22% of the popular vote, he only had about 7% of the delegates.

Jackson continued to protest this injustice to party leaders, who in some states made adjustments to add Jackson delegates. In the end, Jackson received no just settlement, only the assurance that Jackson supporters could participate in a new Fairness Commission which will set the ground rules for the 1988 elections.

Building the Rainbow Coalition

In the middle phase of the campaign, momentum towards building the Rainbow Coalition picked up. In New York, Jackson won 34% of the Latino vote and 20% of the Asian American vote. Grass-roots organizing accounted for these strong showings. Jackson won support in these communities by speaking out on issues which affected Third World people: jobs, racial violence, protection of immigrants, nonintervention in the third world. Unlike other candidates, Jackson stayed in the ghettos and barrios to dramatize the conditions of the people through the eyes of the oppressed.

Jackson won support among Native Americans and Chicanos in Arizona, where he won 14% of the vote. Arizona has a 3% Black population.

The Rainbow elicited more support from white peace activists as well. In response to the enthusiastic reception among progressives, Jackson’s positions became more progressive. The masses were open to progressive ideas; indeed they demanded to hear more specific programs to flesh out his agenda. Jackson’s points became sharper and more specific, and his rhetoric against Reagan blew hotter. Jackson called Reagan a “warmonger” to wild affirmation. Appealing to peace activists in Wisconsin, Jackson declared that if elected, he would immediately impose a six-month freeze on arms development. By sharpening his agenda, Jackson clearly established himself as the peace candidate.

In Pennsylvania, Jackson also picked up support from white steel workers. Although it was little publicized, Jackson won Homestead, Pennsylvania, where he was endorsed by Ron Weisen, president of Local 1397 of the United Steel-workers of America (USWA). Only a handful of labor unions – District 1199 of the Hospital Workers in New York City, the Alliance of Postal Employees, a Black postal workers group, the decertified Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) and other small locals – bucked AFL-CIO pressure and endorsed Jackson. But this did not mean that Jackson lacked support among workers.

Jackson carried the vote of Black workers. According to the New York Times I CBS News Poll of May 20, 1984, Jackson was favored by 77 % of the Black union households in Illinois; 84% in New York; 80% in Pennsylvania; and 82% in Ohio. Black workers also formed local groups to support Jackson as in the case of Black bus drivers in San Francisco who formed Muni Drivers for Jackson.

Jackson offered a program of job development through large government investment to rebuild the infrastructure of the nation’s roads, highways and transit systems. He called for the creation of a $110 billion fund to be created by levying a 1-10% surtax on incomes of $25,000 and more and by cutting the military budget.

Jackson sharpened his program for workers by adding new policies that called for new legislation to limit plant closings, aid the unemployed, and support child care, housing and nutrition programs. In addition, Jackson called for recreation of the Job Corps and revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), to save the forests and watersheds.

Despite gains among Latinos, Native Americans, Chicanos, Asians, peace activists and workers, the media kept characterizing the Jackson campaign as just a Black campaign. No doubt, Jackson continued to win the Black vote, carrying 75% of that vote in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and North Carolina. He won the Washington, D.C., primary. But Jackson had won more white votes than Hart had won non-white votes. Hart never carried more than 6% of the Black vote, while Jackson had won up to 10% or more of the white vote in some races.

The campaign moves West

In the final stretch of the campaign, Jackson continued to hammer away at Reagan and condemned Reagan’s mining of the harbors of Nicaragua. The Jackson campaign was helping to build the anti-Reagan front by rallying together objective allies who had yet to work together. The Jackson campaign brought disparate elements – the disabled, elderly, students and youth, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, white peace activists, rank and file trade unionists and workers, farmers – and united them into an objective alliance against Reagan. This confirmed Jackson’s strategy of the Black vote being the trigger for a progressive coalition. With the support of the militant and strong 26 million-member Black Liberation Movement, all progressives stood a better chance of winning.

Throughout Jackson’s California campaign, not even the media could ignore the emergence of the Rainbow Coalition. Jackson directed his energies towards pulling out a strong Latino vote, making appearances before the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), where he lost the endorsement to Mondale by just four votes, and marching in a downtown Los Angeles rally against the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill. He made historic appearances in San Francisco Chinatown and Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, where he condemned anti-Asian violence. Peace activists organized two huge rallies attended by 5,000 people for Jackson in Berkeley and Los Angeles.

In the weeks before the California primary, Jackson made two trips to Mexico to highlight his concern for a humane immigration policy toward Mexican and Central American immigrants and to lend his support to the Contadora efforts for a negotiated settlement of the war in El Salvador. Following the primary election, Jackson toured Nicaragua, El Salvador and Cuba, and met with leaders in the region. Jackson called for the end of U.S. intervention in Central America and the renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Jackson ended the primary season with strong showings in California and New Jersey. Although California has only a 7% Black population, Jackson won 21.4% of the vote. He carried the four predominantly Black congressional districts and won over 20% of the vote in 11 congressional districts. Jackson won 20% of the Asian American vote, 17% of the Latino vote and 15% of the white vote, his highest percentage among whites during the primaries. In New Jersey, Jackson won 24% of the vote, and 12% in New Mexico, where Black people are 2% of the population.

By the end of the campaign, Jackson had succeeded even beyond his initial expectations. He won 3.5 million votes. He won in 60 congressional districts, 30 of them in the South. He entered the Democratic National Convention with 391 delegates and won 465.5 delegate votes on the night of the nomination. He had built the foundation for a nationwide organization of progressive political activists and supporters.

Most importantly, the Jackson campaign galvanized the revolutionary democratic sentiments of the African American masses and pushed forward the struggle for Black liberation. This struggle for democracy and political power objectively attacks the monopoly capitalists. The strengthening of the Black united front through the Jackson campaign and its expansion to a multinational united front via the Rainbow Coalition brings together in an embryonic form the strategic alliance needed to overthrow monopoly capitalism.

By galvanizing the Black vote and moving the electorate to the left, the Jackson campaign has greatly advanced the working class movement. The Jackson movement’s basic thrust for greater democracy and Black self-determination is a revolutionary democratic motion.

By articulating a progressive platform, Jackson raised political issues not usually discussed in national politics. The presidential race provided a national forum on these issues, legitimizing them in an unprecedented way. Jackson also raised people’s political consciousness about the absence of democracy in this country, whether by the example of the Democratic Party’s unfair delegate selection rules or by the discriminatory violations of the Voting Rights Act in the South.

As the Rainbow Coalition maintains its independence as a voice for progressive change, it will continue to attract new activists, forge new alliances and deepen the existing unity among its diverse elements. Building multinational unity around a democratic program for political representation and social justice is an expressed goal of the Rainbow Coalition. The Rainbow Coalition, driven by the revolutionary democratic demands of the African American masses, can become a powerful weapon against the ruling class.

Lessons from the Jackson campaign

One of the key lessons brought out by the Jackson campaign is the importance of electoral politics as a platform for progressive ideas. The Jackson campaign thrust to the forefront of U.S. politics the demands of the Black Liberation Movement and in the process showed how the electoral arena could be transformed into a vehicle for revolutionary, mass struggle.

The Jackson campaign also exposed the absence of democracy in the political process. As one of the major capitalist parties, the Democrats showed that they had no interest in respecting the democratic sentiments of the voters. The politics of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are controlled by the monopoly capitalists, who select the eventual nominees. The Jackson campaign revealed the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party. There was never any fairness to the presidential race. The ground rules of the campaign – the scheduling of races in rapid succession, the predominance of caucuses instead of primaries, the provisions for the appointment of party and elected officials as delegates – all favored the bosses’ hand-picked candidate, Walter Mondale. Thus, having won only 39% of the popular vote during the primaries and caucuses, Mondale was able to garner 51% of the delegates and dictate policy over the platform, rules and credentials.

The Democratic Party can become a vehicle to raise progressive politics, as was shown by the Jackson campaign, but it will be a very difficult struggle to alter the Democratic Party’s center-right orientation. As was demonstrated at the Democratic National Convention, where Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition were defeated on three out of four minority reports to the platform, the conservative forces are much stronger than the progressive forces. In order for real change in the Democratic Party, the progressive forces would have to oust the Southern conservatives and the right-wing Zionist lobby (a major financial backer of the Democrats). In order to wage this struggle, several factors would have to come into play. First, the liberal section of the Democrats would have to accept the Jackson forces and unite. This did not happen at the Democratic Convention because various liberal leaders in the nuclear freeze and women’s caucuses, as well as some Black leaders, tied their own personal aspirations to the conservative party establishment. Secondly, there would need to be a concerted struggle at the lower levels of the Democratic Party, at the state and county level, by the Jackson and progressive forces, to win party positions. Even with these goals accomplished, there would need to be a clear political alternative offered by the Jackson forces which could rally new elements to the Democratic Party and could become a platform for the progressives.

Future directions for the Rainbow

Jackson’s decision to work within the Democratic Party, while keeping his independence by organizing the Rainbow Coalition to do grass-roots organizing, is based on a sober assessment that the Black masses are not headed in the direction of a third party. It will take a major defection of workers and minorities from the Democrats to form a viable third party. For most African Americans, the Democrats are the only party in which it is even possible to win some influence and recognition. However, in order not to be taken for granted, Jackson and the Rainbow must keep an independent organization, which can, if necessary, challenge the Democratic establishment by offering its own slate of candidates and issues. By bringing new elements into the Democratic Party under his leadership, Jackson could wield real clout.

Progressives and communists must support Jackson’s bid for greater influence in the Democratic Party, while wholeheartedly aiding his efforts for independent political organizing at the grass-roots level. In the long protracted struggle for socialism, the Jackson forces’ fight for democracy advances the goal of socialist revolution by forcing the ruling class to grant higher and higher levels of democracy. In preparation for the crucial fall election, Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition launched voter registration and voter education efforts. After declaring his support for the Mondale/Ferraro ticket, Jackson made numerous appearances in the South to encourage a new Black/white coalition that can unite to elect Black people to Congress, establish a new economic agenda that can aid African Americans and whites, and to win for Mondale and the Democrats. Each state’s Rainbow Coalition was encouraged to organize get-out-the-vote efforts.

Beyond November lie even greater challenges for the Rainbow Coalition. Many Rainbow Coalition members are active in the Dump Koch movement in New York City. Similarly, Rainbow Coalition members will be organizing for other local races and even running for office in the near future. The progressive challenge represented by the Rainbow Coalition has great potential because it is a movement rooted among the masses and guided by high political principles. Its future is limited only by its ability to coalesce around a functional organizational structure which combines democracy with centralized leadership and the further articulation of a progressive alternative in U.S. politics.

Shelly Ross is a staff writer for UNITY newspaper.