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Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s parents, certainly became media savvy in the days before their daughter died. How could they not be? The tragic story of a family torn apart by a feud at a sick bed was reported all over the world.

Media attention is always a two edged sword. News cameras attract anyone and everyone, like a light draws bugs. In this case they drew Tom DeLay, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Bill Frist, Karl Rove, Randall Terry, and an endless stream of people determined to prove their religiosity with bad performance art.

None of it helped the Schindlers. The judiciary, both Democrats and Republicans, ruled time and again that only their son-in-law had the right to determine if Terri lived or died.

After state courts, federal courts and the Supreme Court either ruled against them or refused to take up their cause they became increasingly desperate. If the powerful couldn’t help them they needed someone who might be able to bring public attention to bear on their case. They called Jesse Jackson.

Progressives had watched in frustration as the media’s herd mentality made Terri Schiavo a twenty four hour seven day a week news story. They wondered if the right wing had once again outfoxed them with their relentless support of a seemingly unpopular issue that nonetheless seemed to always work for them in the end.

The frustration was only magnified when Jesse Jackson appeared and gave renewed life to a right wing wedge issue.

"I feel so passionate about this injustice being done, how unnecessary it is to deny her a feeding tube, water, not even ice to be used for her parched lips. This is a moral issue and it transcends politics and family disputes," Jackson eagerly told the press.

We must take him at his word, but Jesse Jackson cannot have it both ways. He owes it to his supporters to answer some very crucial questions.

Does it concern Rev. Jackson that the Schiavo case is already being used to stack the judiciary with conservatives? It must be clear to Jesse Jackson that publicly choosing sides in this story puts one of his feet in a different camp. If he sides with Tom DeLay on any issue then he has to accept responsibility for the consequences. DeLay made his position clear:

"We will look at an arrogant, out of control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at the Congress and president when given jurisdiction to hear this case anew and look at all the facts … The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."

What will Jackson say when DeLay and his friends in Congress work to undermine the independence of the judiciary and use Terri Schiavo as their excuse? I’m certain that he will fight against their efforts, but he may have helped give them a strategic advantage in their never ending fight to destroy the constitution itself if it stands between them and a permanent hold on power.

Rev. Jackson can’t just say that his conscience urged him to speak up for the Schindlers. Jackson must have known that his comments would be used to bolster the agendas of individuals and interests who are ordinarily opposed to him. Surely he must have thought about all of this before he decided to insert himself into the Schiavo drama.

Even Terri Schiavo’s death didn’t stop the right wing from using her for their own purposes. If Jackson wants to be helpful he could use his influence to help those who have been harmed by their onslaught. In fact, he now has an obligation to do so. He can begin by supporting Judge George Greer. The Republican appointee has received death threats and required police protection after he ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo.

The Judge was also asked to leave his Southern Baptist congregation. Perhaps Rev. Jackson might intercede on the Judge’s behalf with his fellow Christians. If there was ever a need for reconciliation this is it. Jesse Jackson has twice negotiated for the release of American service men held as POWs. That might be easier than getting Southern Baptists to open their minds, but if anyone is up to it, Jesse Jackson surely must be.

Everyone knows what will happen to the Schindlers. They are the Paula Joneses of the 21st century. They are already being used to raise money for right wing causes, and they have had a private trauma used to benefit someone else’s agenda. The Republican party will then leave them to their own devices. Will Jesse Jackson do the same?

He not only has a personal obligation to work towards healing for the parties involved. He has to help undo any political damage that has been done. Perhaps he has a plan that is too brilliant for this columnist to contemplate. Let us pray.

The government, press, and church all reached their low points in the Schiavo case. Aside from more Americans getting living wills, it is difficult to see if any good has come from this story. The Democratic party still doesn’t know how to deal with the DeLays and Roves of the world. They are relentless while Democrats are afraid of their own shadows. It would not be shocking if the right wing gained another victory by using a dying woman and her fractured family.

So Jesse Jackson has his work cut out for him. He was already a leading voice for progressives, not an easy task in the last few years. It only gets harder as the right wing strut triumphantly at home and abroad. Haters of the United Nations are chosen to represent us at the UN and the World Bank will be led by a man who hates the rest of the world. Condi and Rummy bring us closer to disaster with ill considered remarks that insult world leaders.

We need Jesse Jackson now. We need his commitment and his clarity of vision. We need him to keep the Democratic party from giving us short shrift even as they find new ways to lose. If he can give us that while also walking a thin line he is even smarter than I thought. He had better be.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in . Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at

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April 7 2005
Issue 133

is published every Thursday.

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