It’s 2017, and much has changed since Jackson marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. But some old problems remain unresolved — like access to good jobs.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was in Seattle this week pressing Amazon.com to make its workforce and leadership look more like the population of the country.
It’s 2017, and much has changed since Jackson marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. But some old problems remain unresolved, and access to good jobs is among them.
Jackson, who’s 75 now, can still get into rooms that others can’t and bring attention to issues that need to be addressed. That allows him to continue to play a prominent role in advancing progressive causes.
At Amazon.com’s annual stockholders’ meeting Tuesday, Jackson pointed out that the board of directors is still all white. Said Jackson, according to a Seattle Times story about the meeting: “It does not represent America’s talent and America’s opportunity.”
Amazon and many other tech companies import talent, because, they say, the United States doesn’t produce enough people qualified for high-skills jobs the industry needs to fill.
The evening before he spoke to leaders at Amazon, Jackson visited Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church to rally local support for this and other work he and his organization, Rainbow/PUSH, are engaged in.
At Mount Zion, Jackson said, “There is nothing a child on the other side of the ocean has that children on this side don’t.”
Jackson said he has nothing against workers from other countries, but that more young people here should have access to those jobs. That means better education and more open doors.
“Don’t lock up our children (in the United States) and employ their children,” he said.
For the past several years, Jackson has focused on tech companies because that’s where so many good-paying jobs are being created today. He’s gotten credit for nudging Silicon Valley companies to report their workforce makeup, which, to no one’s surprise, is heavily male and white.
Seattle is a major hub of tech innovation and growth, so Jackson has been here before on the same crusade. At the meeting Tuesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said diversity is important to the company, and other Amazon officials pointed to efforts the company is making to support education in technology and the sciences.
But like most large tech companies, Amazon admits it isn’t close to where it should be.
The country isn’t where it should be on many fronts having to do with equality and justice, but even the progress made over decades of struggle is at risk.
“We’re in the midst of a counterrevolution,” Jackson told his audience at Mount Zion. “All we fought for over the last few years is under attack.”
Once we thought the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had secured the right to vote forever, but no. Jackson said the forces that never wanted all Americans to have that fundamental right never stopped trying to undermine it.
He mentioned the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act and opened the door for states to adopt laws that have disproportionately reduced voting by members of some minority groups.
We are just beginning the work of reforming policing to avoid unnecessary killings and to make the criminal-justice system work for everyone and work fairly. And now the U.S. Department of Justice is turning away from its key role in bringing reform.
Immigration rights, accessible health care and other progressive causes are under attack, Jackson said. He went down the list, periodically having the audience chant with him. “If you are for health care, but against Obamacare,” he said, “You want the omelet without the eggs.”
Jackson said progressive people from all demographic groups and from across the country need to join together in their struggles. “Our strength is in our connections,” he said.
Jackson was with King in 1968 in Memphis, where the civil-rights leader was leading the fight for better conditions and pay for the black workers who collected the city’s garbage. King was assassinated there, ending one chapter in the fight for civil rights.
So much was gained in those years that aspirations rose and progress seemed almost inevitable. It isn’t.
There are always forces that push back against change. The fight for a better union must continue.