Election 2004  
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Rainbow's Gravity

Jesse Jackson's campaigns for the presidency in '84 and '88 changed the Democratic party in ways we can still see today.
 
 
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Last December, when the smart money was on Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination, when long-shot bettors were talking about Al Sharpton pulling a surprise in the South Carolina primary, when nobody but the Democratic leadership believed John Kerry was "electable," Jesse Jackson was working the South as if a campaign depended on it. At South Carolina State, children with American flags and grown-ups in their Sunday clothes were waiting on him, while the pep band played and a clutch of aides talked into their cellphones.

Jackson was late, traveling from a rally in Goose Creek, where police had raided a high school, forcing 107 kids to their knees, guns to their head, in a search for drugs that turned up nothing. Blacks make up less than a quarter of the student body, Jackson explained after finally bounding onstage, but accounted for two-thirds of those terrorized in the raid. Blacks make up 30 percent of South Carolina's population, but account for 70 percent of its prisoners, who build auto transmissions while real-paying jobs drain away.

Twenty years after his first run for the Democratic nomination, Jackson was in his natal state speaking truths on the rigged rules of race and class that the candidates couldn't or wouldn't, while stressing the imperative of an engaged citizenry. "Keep hope alive!" he urged yet again, and amid an exuberance of cheers there was something in the sullen silence of a row of teenagers that told the difference between the then and now. Jackson mightn't have noticed. In a flash he was off – to a school, to a preachers' lunch, cellphones a'ringing in the borrowed limo, on to Raleigh and thence to Birmingham, "mobilizing the masses," as he put it.

Nobody else was going to do it. For all the candidates' talk about grassroots power, nobody even tried. Explanations abound: the hurry-up primary schedule, the Dean campaign's failure to translate its grassroots fundraising strategy into an investment strategy for indigenous organization; the flimflam of the Sharpton campaign (or "scampaign," as one black South Carolina woman dubbed it) fueled by white Republican dirty-trickster Roger Stone; the relative poverty of the Kucinich camp and its tactical decision to bypass the South, hence African-Americans; the laurel of inevitability conferred upon Kerry after Iowa.

But the political culture that ordered those choices owes to something older, deeper: to 1984, when Jackson launched a grassroots campaign the likes of which the country had never seen; and to the two roads that diverged out of the ultimate wreckage of that year's general election. One was marked "Rainbow Coalition," the other "The Backlash." The former would launch another presidential campaign in 1988, the most formidable internal party challenge in modern times; the latter would constitute itself as the Democratic Leadership Council, a different kind of internal challenge, one hostile to the grassroots (it favored the term "special interests") and determined to make the party safe, or safer, for white men. We live with the legacy of both efforts, and in a sense both coil back to Jackson. In the American dialectic of race, power and politics, the "legacy" of a black-led, left-leaning, populist challenge would never be a simple thing; if the side of the people was emboldened, so were the tribunes of what Jackson once called "the cash system dominated by white men."

If Jackson projected a vision and provided an example of a new kind of movement engagement in electoral politics, the failure to motor that forward must not be his alone. The vital questions on this anniversary, therefore, cannot be contained within the parenthesis of Jackson's personal leaps and limitations. How did progressive forces discharge their responsibilities? How did the Democratic Party respond to the invitation of history? What was gained, and what remains lacking?

Those who did not live in 1984 and 1988 cannot know how sweet a national electoral campaign season can be. Not sweet in the ordinary sense, for there was abundant ugliness, but in that sense where ossification gives way to possibility, where something new appears on the scene that seems to rearrange the pieces on the playing table. It was Reagan time, and Democrats were in retreat. Jackson says now that he never had a mind to run for President, but then the leading Democratic liberals did something that had to be answered. Harold Washington was running for mayor of Chicago in 1983, and though his organization was distinct from Jackson's, when news came that Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale were coming to back Washington's opponents, as Jackson tells it, "We thought, This couldn't be true; these are our guys. So we got together about a hundred black leaders saying, Please don't come. Please respect our alliance. And they came anyway."

Washington won anyway, with a black base that had been deepening for at least ten years, due in part to voter-registration efforts and a methodical training program of Jackson's Operation PUSH that in the early 1970s taught the A to Z of electoral organizing – "the best thing I've ever seen in terms of grassroots politics," according to Frank Watkins, who joined PUSH in 1971 and would later be communications director for the presidential campaigns. Meanwhile in Boston, Mel King had put together what he was the first to call a Rainbow Coalition for mayoral runs in 1979 and 1983.

Nationally, black leftists were looking for electoral options, and within the black mainstream, discussions over how to respond to Reaganism inevitably led also to the indifference of "our guys." The question of What should we demand of them? amped up into Why not go after them? The only remaining matter was Who should run?

That black establishment "wanted very much not to anoint Jesse Jackson," recalls Ron Walters, a political scientist who would be Jackson's deputy campaign manager for issues. And indeed Jackson ran in 1984 without its support. He was considered too brash, too much the maverick, untutored and untested. But Jackson was the candidate of opportunity, and in any case no one else had the moxie to try. Plus Jackson knew the terrain.

"The guy had basically spent the twenty years before that campaigning," says Steve Cobble, who started working for Jackson in 1987 and most recently advised the Kucinich campaign. "No one thought of it as that, but the point is he wasn't showing up the first time as a candidate. That was one of Al's problems this year. It was one of Dennis's problems. Even if people liked you, they liked you on paper; they didn't know you. Jackson they knew. In every state he'd visited, he had people that would offer their church or do volunteer work or bring people out." He knew the deejays, knew how to use free media, so by the time he ran, says Eric Easter, who dealt with the press during the campaigns, he'd begin each day calling black radio shows in about twenty states.

More directly, in 1983 Jackson had toured the South, registering voters in political revival meetings that would contribute to a 30 percent increase in black registration there between 1982 and 1984. In 1980 he'd been on the primary campaign trail, leading rallies on issues he'd hoped the Democrats would embrace. He called it a Third Force Strategy. "We were in Ames, Iowa, before the caucus," says Watkins, now communications director for Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. "Seven hundred fifty people had come out for Kennedy; 1,000 came for Jackson, and people couldn't get in. But we were ignored by the press, ignored by the candidates. I'd actually tried to get Reverend to run in 1979, but he wouldn't do it. Now I told him, 'Unless you're a candidate, no one will pay attention.'"

So he ran. "I ran then to challenge our progressive white allies to accept our issues and our pain, not just our votes," Jackson said recently. "We're still convinced, and still trying to convince the party, that expanding the pool of voters is key to winning – but also dealing with the issues that matter to them. Many people want their votes but don't want their issues. Conservatives try to oppress them; progressives want to wave at 'em but not get involved in the grease and the blood and the grit of dealing with their issues, because their issues create a weighty matter of substance."

Looking back, people with the campaigns say it was the amplification of issues, and the bolstering of ground forces driving them, that are Jackson's profoundest achievements. Walters coordinated twenty-three issue desks in the '84 campaign. "It was like a school right in the middle of the campaign headquarters," he says. "No one else at that level was talking about environmental racism, 'no first use' of nuclear weapons; antiapartheid (remember, the ANC was a 'terrorist organization'); the Arab-Israeli situation." No other candidate had an economic policy based on major investment and cuts in the military, a program Bill Clinton would run on in 1992 (though abandon forthwith). None advocated extension of the Congressional health plan to all Americans. None regarded gay rights as inherent in a larger moral claim and not simply something to be pandered to. None twinned race and class so naturally. None had ever been black.

"Without Jesse, I don't think the antiapartheid movement would have occurred with the strength or vigor that it had," the historian Manning Marable observes, noting the relationships forged in the campaign that boosted that movement and others as well. A full accounting of everyone who "took what they learned and ran with it" can probably never be done, says Eric Easter, who consulted with Dean's campaign in 2003-04. They range from Paul Wellstone, whose 1990 senatorial campaign came out of the Rainbow; to gay activists, who created consciously multiracial projects; to family farmers and Southerners, who planted a garden of organizations; to Latinos and Asian-Americans, who pumped up their political volume; to Tammy Baldwin, who worked for the Rainbow in Wisconsin, entered politics and fashioned a coalition of students, farmers, workers, environmentalists and progressives that would, by 1998, elect her to Congress, the first woman in the state's history and the first openly gay nonincumbent in the nation's. When Baldwin talks about building support both inside Washington and outside in the communities for universal healthcare or daycare or civil rights, she echoes Jackson's campaigns.

Certainly, says Ron Daniels, who was organizing the Rainbow Coalition after '84, became deputy campaign manager in '88 and now directs the Center for Constitutional Rights, "in terms of synthesizing a reformist and radical message, and linking vision to policy to action, those were tremendous contributions," and – especially on the Middle East – "pretty heavy stuff."

QUOT-Madeleine Albright told me at the '84 convention, 'If you even raise this issue [Palestine], you'll destroy this party,'" says Jim Zogby, a deputy campaign manager in 1983, senior adviser and vice chair in 1988, who went on to start the Arab American Institute. "The debate then was, Could you even talk to Palestinians? In the middle of all that, for Jackson to say 'our time, your time, has come' was empowering. There was a raw excitement about being included. But those were difficult years. After the convention, Mondale sent back the money Arab-American businessmen contributed to his campaign. After the election the political director of the DNC told me, 'We can't deal with you because if we do, another group will be angry with us.' I said that's not only insulting to us, it's anti-Semitic. Jackson urged us, Don't give up; the threat you pose is to stick around and fight. In 1988, I led the platform fight for a plank on mutual recognition and territorial compromise. We had a debate but no vote. We made a dent, but what it took to get there was huge."

"One of the things that I loved about Jackson, and still do," says Bill Fletcher Jr., now head of TransAfrica Forum and at the time involved in labor efforts in the Rainbow, "is that Jackson refused to be pigeonholed. In that sense he represented the best in real black political leadership. It wasn't simply ethnic leadership; it was a leader speaking on all the issues of the day from the perspective of being an African-American, so that that African-Americanness infused his viewpoints. What I have found in most white institutions is a failure to accept that and respect that in people of color, and I think it was one of the things that was infuriating to much of the Democratic Party officialdom about Jackson."

Including plantation-mentality black officialdom, stresses Gwen Patton, a longtime Alabama activist and former Rainbow Coalition board member. In Montgomery black politicians collaborated with the white media to attack Jackson and his supporters, even working the polls against him, offering "unsolicited voter's assistance." But Jackson won the black vote in the state, as he did nationwide. As Patton wrote in a biting 1984 analysis in The Journal of Intergroup Relations: "Jackson restored human dignity – the essence of freedom which had been sapped by black politicians in the wake of the people's victory to wrest their citizenship rights from the segregationists. Jackson's candidacy proved that... true leaders are advocates – are waves, as Shirley Chisholm so eloquently says, pushed ahead by the Movement ship steered by the masses." In 1988 Jackson won the Alabama primary outright; this time black officials were on board ship, and grasping at the controls.

Overall, Jackson placed third in 1984, with 3.5 million votes, and the pundits who'd said he would be the party's ruin watched as Walter Mondale, heedless of Rainbow constituents and their issues, crashed in defeat. In 1988, Jackson placed second, winning over 7 million votes, more than Mondale had scored in 1984; and 1,218.5 convention delegates, more than any runner-up in history. Again the pundits, here in The New Republic, warned of "certain and apocalyptic defeat" if Jackson were given a spot on the Democratic ticket. He wasn't, and Michael Dukakis, as heedless as Mondale and hitched to Lloyd Bentsen, a DLC Democrat, suffered his own private apocalypse.

Jackson likes to recount a story from 1989, about a visit to Camp Solidarity in Virginia, where miners were in the midst of the historic Pittston strike. They were, for the most part, large men, white, partial to camouflage, 10,000 strong. Jackson thought they looked pretty fierce. Rich Trumka, then president of the United Mine Workers, told them, "Y'all probably wondering why Jesse Jackson is here. Last year we were told to be scared of him. And this year the folks we gave our money to are nowhere to be seen. So I want you to ask yourselves, Which would you rather have, a black friend or a white enemy?"

It was a question other Southern white trade unionists had raised during the campaigns with their memberships, many of them Reagan Democrats. As elsewhere, the miners listened and responded enthusiastically. Jackson always maintained that a progressive candidate could reach such Democrats with straight talk, empathy, class-angled economics and an appeal to common human values – what veteran activist Anne Braden, who'd organized Rainbow rallies in Appalachia that drew thousands of poor white nonvoters or registered Republicans, called "appealing to the best instincts of Southern whites as opposed to the worst, which is what Bill Clinton played to."

The Pittston story provokes a question now. After all the energy, vision, galvanizing presence and new voters Jackson brought to the scene, can it be said that the party and established progressive institutions answered in the same way as the plain people? Or did they, perhaps, prefer the white enemy to the black friend?

In reviewing what happened with Rainbow politics after 1988, it is common to focus on Jackson. Certainly, he had sharp critics on the left long before he ran, people who called him, variously, an opportunist, a showboat, a capitalist roader, a man too concerned with getting "in" and not enough with the theory and practice of organization. To speak with Rainbow warriors now is to confront a persistent, deep disappointment that in the spring of 1989 Jackson decided against institutionalizing the Rainbow as a mass-based, democratic, independent membership organization that could pursue the inside-outside strategy he'd articulated vis-a-vis the Democrats and build strength locally and nationally to leverage power for progressive aims. Instead, as Ron Daniels, who'd drawn up various plans for such an organization, puts it, Jackson opted for "a light and lean operation." It was, he says, "a lost opportunity." Fletcher captures the general tenor of disappointment: "Jackson inspired a level of activity in electoral politics that I've never seen. He encouraged people who were cynical to get involved. The Rainbow pumped people up, and then it deflated them. And the problem is that it then becomes very difficult to reinflate. I think that he overestimated his own strength in the Democratic Party and was seduced by those, particularly in the black political establishment, that suddenly fawned all over him. But what he'd created, rather than a permanent Jackson wing of the party, was a very broad insurgency within and outside the party. And so, ironically, in demobilizing the Rainbow, he also committed a coup against himself."

It would take more than an article to unravel all the hurts and hopes, the calculations and miscalculations. And because that other organization – imagined as a left variant on the Christian Coalition – never materialized, the might-have-beens are frozen in the amber of conjecture. Jackson himself says, "I like that idea. It's a good idea. But it would've required infrastructure and resources and discipline. You can't just wish something like that into working." Privately, one of his close campaign associates said, "I think Jackson didn't want to have to referee between different parts of his coalition. By 1988 the tensions were already clear. The activists were getting supplanted by the elected officials; the Congress people were telling the lefty radicals to tone it down. The sectarians in various places were trying to take it over internally, and you know the left has never solved that question. We had the most diverse, most little-d democratic, most American delegation anybody's ever sent to a convention, in '88. But if we had just had grassroots little-d democratic votes everywhere, we'd have had a delegation made up almost entirely of black ministers, because they could outvote certainly the gay and lesbian representative, the white Central America activists. Some state coordinators are still catching hell for the choices they made." No doubt, says Anne Braden, "he probably thought he had a tiger by the tail, and maybe he felt he couldn't control it. But on the Rainbow board, people felt we were doing fine. He needed to trust the people more who really wanted to make it work." Privately others say Jackson is incapable of engaging in the kind of dialogue and delegation of authority that sustaining that type of organization would have required.

But if that debate is full of unknowns, plenty of knowns still prick the conscience. In 1984, as Andrew Kopkind and Alexander Cockburn wrote in these pages, Jackson and the Rainbow represented the historical base and radical message for which the left had been yearning in an electoral wilderness. Yet labor, NOW, Democratic Socialists, organized gays and lesbians, other likely constituencies went their own way or, worse, into the arms of Mondale, who, like John Kerry today, accepted the essential premises of the Republican program, except tax cuts, and quarreled merely with the execution. Between '84 and '88, as Cobble notes, "no one of any prominence among white progressives came to Jackson and said, 'We want you to run'; none of the magazines, none of the organizations, only a couple of labor unions (AFGE, the Machinists, 1199). In '88 the only large organization that wasn't black that backed him was ACORN. The Nation didn't endorse until April, which was pretty dang late. After '88 Jackson clearly now is the frontrunner for the nomination. Did the unions say, 'Jesse, let's go, let's start right now for '92'? Did any of the liberal organizations? No. NOW announced it was putting together a commission to study a third party. Jackson's the front-runner for the major-party nomination, and suddenly they're thinking about organizing a third party!"

"Front-runner" talk always disconcerted leftists who cared more about the Rainbow's movement potential. Yet whatever else he could or couldn't do, Jackson was a proven, powerful candidate. His grassroots forays helped the Democrats win back the Senate in 1986 and propelled candidates into office at all levels. By the calculus through which liberal institutions ordinarily support Democrats, the nod to Jackson should have been uncontroversial. A labor official, asked why, after '88, unions would not have seen where their own future best interests lay, said, "That's not the way those people do business; they don't do the outreach." But there was nothing business-as-usual about Jackson, who'd walked picket lines for decades. Frank Watkins was more direct: "The reason labor didn't do that is they're racist. The reason civil rights organizations didn't is they're jealous. The reason the women didn't is they're suspicious."

Someone else was doing outreach. In the spring of '89, Al From, intellectual architect of the Democratic Leadership Council, paid a visit to Governor Clinton in Little Rock. Unlike progressive forces, the backlash Democrats recognized the utility of a charismatic candidate, and of starting early. For 1984 they'd won rules changes, introducing the concept of "superdelegates" to shift power from party activists to elected officials. Jackson managed to negotiate limits on those delegates in 1984. The next year the DLC formally constituted itself. For '88 it advocated one big Southern primary, Super Tuesday, to secure the nomination, it expected, for a white conservative. Jackson swept Super Tuesday, besting the DLC's favorite son, Al Gore. When Jackson then took 54 percent of the vote in Michigan, what appeared in tantalizing prospect was a new party paradigm – neither the New Deal alliance of Northern liberals, blue collars and Jim Crow, nor post-McGovern liberalism with its smorgasbord of interests and its white elite firmly in charge of portion-control. Party liberals had a choice; they chose reaction.

As outlined in Kenneth Baer's Reinventing Democrats, From and Co. were straightforward about rolling back the party to its pre-civil rights past, where the issue of "special interests" would be submerged for the goal of winning, and winning would mean reinstituting what Congressman Jackson calls the "Democratic Legacy of the Confederacy." In the run-up to the 1992 race, Clinton's people, as recounted in Marshall Frady's book Jesse, would confer with old Mondale hands asking, "Why did you guys give so much to Jackson? You shouldn't've got pushed around like that." The iconic image of '92 would be Clinton and Senator Sam Nunn posing at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the graven images of the Confederacy's heroes looming in the background, and in the middle distance, a group of black prisoners.

"The error," says Kevin Gray, who coordinated Jackson's winning campaign in South Carolina in '88 and organized for the '84 win as well, "was in assuming we ever left the Age of Reagan, and not carrying the critique to the Age of Clinton. Where Jesse dropped the ball is he became a Democrat. Instead of a small-d democrat, he became a big-D Democrat – except with an asterisk."

Asterisk? "You know the line, 'World champions and you MVP, you a nigger,/Four degrees and a PhD, still a nigger.' And that's exactly how I think the Democratic Party sees Jesse. Now, I have disagreements with the brother – I think he squandered his leverage, which was our leverage, because the beauty of Jesse running was the threat that we all might one day walk, or even the threat to disrupt things, and for African-Americans in this political system, hell, that's the only power we got. That and moral authority, especially as relates to a Democratic Party that styles itself as having the interests of black folk at heart. Are they living up to it? Hell no. But, now, everybody else got to look in that mirror too. What did the Rainbow stripes get from Bill Clinton? And where were progressive forces on that?"

By a brisk accounting, the black stripe of the Rainbow got the crime bill, women got "welfare reform," labor got NAFTA, gays and lesbians got DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act). Even with a Democratic Congress in the early years, the peace crowd got no cuts in the military; unions got no help on the right to organize; advocates of DC statehood, which would virtually guarantee more Democrats in Congress, got nothing. None of them fought together, if they fought at all. On affirmative action, Jackson had to threaten Clinton privately with an independent run in 1996 before the President declared, "Mend it, don't end it." Marable points out that between Clinton's inaugural and the day he left office, some 650,000 more people were incarcerated; today one in eight black men is barred from voting because of prison, probation or parole. "Talk about amputating your base," he says. Ideologically, however, it was not Clinton's base, the DLC base, that was attacked. It was Jackson's base, the Rainbow base.

Now for every national election, the party underwrites Jackson's loyalty by contracting him to boost voter participation. He believes in it, but the indifference of those South Carolina teenagers last year is multiplied many times over in black communities, where, as Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a progressive South Carolina legislator who was a 1984 Jackson delegate, says, "I hear it all the time: 'I ain't votin'. Ain't nothin' gonna change.'" Half a million blacks in the state are "missing voters," she says, either unregistered or no-shows on Election Day, and no one person can "deliver them all." Nationwide the number is 13 million. Counting whites and others similarly disposed, mostly poor and working-class, it's 100 million. For Jackson there's a contradiction in being a prophetic voice of opposition and the party's paid vote rustler. As he knows better than anyone, people don't vote for just anyone – perhaps the greatest, discounted lesson of 1984.

The day that Ronald Reagan died, Jackson was preparing for a barnstorm through Appalachia. There was a telling symmetry about it. Twenty years ago, as Reagan lashed out at "welfare queens" and projected a fantasyland America, Jackson was in those same hills and hollows, pressing against the flesh and suffered facts of the real thing. It was the children of Appalachia about whom Reagan had said, Let them eat ketchup! and whom America today has sent to kill and die in Iraq. "Why are we going to Appalachia?" Jackson said. "Because that's where our soul is." Our shame, too; along with the Black Belt South, it is the region with the most unemployment, the poorest people, the sickest people, the most persistent underdevelopment, whichever party holds power and however prosperous the time. Urging "Reinvest in America" and co-sponsored by a host of unions that never put their names to a Rainbow campaign, the tour was Third Force all over again, including the blackout from a press gorging on the myth of Reagan, man of the people.

"I do not approach America cynically," Jackson said, "because I did not know a day where we did not have to struggle. People ask about anniversaries – fifty years since Brown, forty years since the Civil Rights Act – and say, 'What happened in fifty years?' It's a good question, but what about what happened before fifty years? For 335 years race supremacy was the law of the land. Then the law changed but the culture didn't. The idea of a nonracist society, legally, is just fifty years old. When we ran, the Voting Rights Act was just nineteen years old. So it's still early in the morning. And it's a bit different between African-Americans and our white progressive allies. For us, liberals and conservatives are often two sides of the same coin. No liberal ever had to fight to use a toilet. No liberal ever had to fight for the right to vote, fight to stay in a hotel, fight to buy ice cream at a Howard Johnson's with money. No liberal is scared today because there are so many ways the constituency can be killed. And there's a culture that goes with that. So you're always fighting two battles. You're fighting the culture in your own huddle as you're fighting the other side. You're pushing political ideas and cultural transformation at the same time. What was gratifying about the campaigns was moving that process, and that process is irreversible."

Electorally, this year's Illinois Senate race is another stage in the process. Barack Obama, 42, is likely to become the only black senator come November. At the Rainbow/PUSH convention in June, the mere mention of his name by John Kerry prompted a standing ovation. As Marable notes, Obama (like Baldwin and Jesse Jr.) is representative of "that generation of the left that came to political maturity in the 1980s informed by three pivotal motions, around AIDS, antiapartheid and the Jackson campaigns." Coming up his own way – Harvard, local elective office, "the Rainbow via Tiger Woods," as journalist John Nichols aptly put it – Obama nevertheless followed a Jacksonian strategy, solidifying his black base, then appealing to Latinos, Asian-Americans, white liberals, farmers, gays and lesbians, labor, with a message of economic justice and opposition to the war that, again, presents an alternative to DLC politics. For a party in search of stars, Obama could be it. But as his friend Camelia Odeh, a 1988 Jackson delegate, longtime Palestinian organizer and executive director of the South West Youth Collaborative in Chicago, cautions: "I wouldn't put so much on the individual. We need more than that on the left – a discourse around ideologies and, beyond only activism, genuine grassroots community organizing. Then when the individual can't pull through or has to compromise, people don't get demoralized."

Perhaps it will take the generation behind Obama for that. At a recent conference of Democratic progressives, the younger cohort, more reflective of rainbowism than their elders, were talking about technology but also "beauty parlor-barbershop" organizing; about voter registration but also about using electoral politics tactically, because "our issues don't go away after the election"; about remembering that "the people need hope" but also regarding the Democratic Party without illusion. The name Kerry never came up. Their issues fell within what Jackson had called "the trilogy of racism, exploitative capitalism and militarism," what Martin Luther King had first named "the triple evils." In their 20s mostly, they weren't quite advocating a "restructuring of the whole of American society," as King had, but they did speak of imagining a different world. In their discussion there was the resonance of something I'd heard from Jack O'Dell, an old soldier of the left, who'd worked with Dr. King, worked with Jackson shaping the international agenda. "There are moments," he'd said, "and we have to take from those moments all that is positive, because that's our inheritance. Because of Jesse Jackson's campaigns, we know how to build a grassroots campaign. Without them, we might have the analysis but not the experience. We must still ask ourselves how we can reinvigorate electoral democracy. We can't drop out, as if what we don't like about electoral politics will go away because we abstain. Movements are directed toward political power, and wherever we can get a piece of it, we have to try to get it and hold on to it. Now, we know what Bush is. If we are victorious in defeating Bush, then our assignment is to make what we can of Kerry. And our job begins the next day."

JoAnn Wypijewski, a former senior editor of The Nation, is based in New York City.