The Reverend Jesse Jackson is the face of liberalism for many people in America. The man who once ran for president remains an active political figure, speaking out on everything from abortion to living conditions in America as a black person. One of Jackson’s long standing fights is over affirmative action. Jackson has been involved in affirmative action since the days of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jackson was a lieutenant in the Southern Christian Leadership Corps).
In a 1998 interview with PBS, Jackson spoke at great lengths with Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about affirmative action and what action should be taken to correct this dilemma. Jackson explained why there is still a need for affirmative action by comparing the situation of black and white races to flowers, "If you have a lawn and plant two seeds of equal power, and one stem grows taller and one flowers brighter, and one sweet one fruit is sweeter, there's nothing wrong with the seed. It's that when the wall is there, the one that gets the sunlight grows. The one in shadows does not grow. So that's not about race and genetics. That's about photosynthesis. And so pulling walls down that each of us might have access to the same sunlight, is a defining moment."
While Jackson believes that race is still a problem, he sees the difference between classes as the greater social ill. "There's great disparity between who goes to college and who goes to jail," says Jackson. "Who lives long and who dies prematurely, is the defining issue of our time. And I submit to you, there's a significant race dimension, it is basically class-driven." Jackson goes as far to say that we should stop focusing so much on racial affirmative action and instead turn it into a have/have not scenario. "Affirmative Action is not an issue that should threaten to the violence based upon race. It's a chance for those who have been locked out to get in, and then to do what? Make a contribution. Watch the walls come down, whether it's in the South or on Wall Street. When the walls come down, what do we find? More markets, more talent, more capital and growth."
Ultimately, Jackson believes that a liberal coalition akin to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s is the best direction for the country. " [The] coalition has saved Affirmative Action. That coalition sent Aristide back to Haiti. That coalition gained Mandela's freedom in South Africa. That coalition led to a new Middle East policy. And so in a broad stroke, that basic progressive coalition which is allied strongly with labor and working place people may take on different forms. We have spent so much time on a black/white vertical analysis, there's not been enough focus on a vertical "have/have not" coalition. We do not want to discuss race much in the country. We want to discuss class even less. Because somehow to discuss classism suggests that we're challenging the very heart of our of our system, of our way of life. But I submit to you that a coalition will emerge, demanding jobs with security, demanding equal protection under the law, demanding equal opportunity, demanding equal access, demanding fair share. Those are the basic imperatives of the of the American dream."