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Cover Story: Jesse Jackson Jr for Senate - The African World By Bill Fletcher, Jr., Executive Editor
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With the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency, his former Senate seat is now open.  A series of discussions are unfolding as to who Illinois Governor Blagojevich should appoint.  One of the more interesting names is Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

There are three main reasons that I am interested in seeing his appointment: 

1 - his consistent stand on the need for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal, quality education for all;

2 - an amendment guaranteeing the individual right to vote;

3 - an amendment guaranteeing equal, quality healthcare.

Congressman Jackson has correctly summed up that in the absence of a federal constitutional amendment and a continued reliance of the state system, we will be nearly guaranteed that certain basic human rights will be denied large segments of society.  I was particularly intrigued when I participated in a discussion with him about the matter of education.

Education, as a system, is run by each state and largely funded through property taxes.  Thus, from the outset the system is almost guaranteed to be unequal on the basis of both race and class.  If the tax base of a particular region is low, for instance, it is more than likely that the quality of the education will also suffer.  The exact opposite occurs, of course, when the tax base is high.

Racial segregation of education was correctly challenged in the 1950s and 1960s.  It was understood, contrary to the sophistry of Justice Clarence Thomas, that racial segregation is more (and worse) than a simple matter of separating people based on racial classifications.  Racial segregation is a form of oppression and this played itself out in the school system with generally inferior education for students of color.

The response to school segregation tended to be school desegregation, and specifically the busing of students.  Yet, as with many reforms in the capitalist USA, it was anemic.  Since busing, narrowed as it was to racial classifications, could not truly address economic differentials, there tended to be a busing of students between bad schools.  White suburbanites were, due to borders, largely immune to desegregation efforts.  While even among poorer schools there was some value to desegregation, it never fully addressed the question of quality education and the impact of racial segregation.

Congressman Jackson's suggestion is worth far more attention than it has received.  He is proposing that public education must be enshrined in the US Constitution as a basic right just as the freedom of speech is a right to which all citizens are entitled.  Moving a constitutional amendment would alter the entire discussion regarding public education including but not limited to, funding, school resources, class size, and the overall quality of the experience for our youth.

If anything I am critical of Congressman Jackson for not gathering a core of supporters who are interested in moving this amendment as a national campaign.  Perhaps, if he is selected to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Obama, he will have that chance and be better situated to bring national attention to the simmering crisis of public education.

We need someone in the Senate who is prepared to change the terms of the discussion about matter such as public education, healthcare and voting.  Step #1 can start with the appointment of Jackson as the junior Senator from the great state of Illinois.  Step #2, however, is his helping to build a movement.  Even with great ideas, he is not a savior and we should not be waiting for one. Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.

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November 20, 2008
Issue 300

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
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