Love him, hate him, or both, but the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. is arguably the greatest black politician in American history–and that covers a whole lot of ground, including The White House. He stepped into the spotlight in a moment of near-total darkness for progressives nationwide, following the murder of his mentor, Dr. King, and then proceeded to ball out in unprecedented fashion for 45 straight years. He has many, many critics, and rightfully so, but not one of them has even half his hustle on his worst day, whether it’s international hostage negotiations, high-level national politics, or building mass-movements from scratch across multiple platforms. Yeah, he didn’t become president, but he’s helped put three in office so far, and Hillary Clinton might be the fourth in 2016.
His work in Tallahassee today was masterful: Dream Defenders had been up there for days, and their appeals were curtly dismissed by elected officials–then Jesse showed up, wielding a power that transcends party politics, and transformed the dynamic of the whole situation is less time than it took him to put on their t-shirt. He’s like a walking signal-flare alerting national media to the relevance of situations they were otherwise inclined to ignore–and he’s done this for three generations, with a record of consistent long-term success unmatched by anyone since Saul Alinsky, if not the legendary “Boss” Tweed himself.
Put most simply: Jesse is to President Bill Clinton and President Obama what “the American Dream” Dusty Rhodes is to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, in terms of being an early prototype for the type of politician that would eventually thrive in the new reality, and today pretty much certifies that. Is he shady and controversial? Of course–he’s from Chicago! His efforts over the past couple days have really helped reinforce the essential role he has played in organizing–and galvanizing–activist groups, and those efforts are worthy of praise, independent of ideology.