Thursday 23 February 2017

Lise Hand: Our leaders could learn an awful lot from Jesse

Lise Hand

'The people who drove us in this hole because of greed and a lack of oversight are being bailed out and the victims of it are still being left out'

THE speaker didn't raise his voice or bang his fist. He didn't have to. There was total silence in the room. "The people's government must intervene to regulate, and enforce needed checks and balances to curb unmitigated greed. It must intervene to protect the majority from the tyranny of the ruling minority," said Reverend Jesse Jackson.

What a pity that Enda and Eamon and Micheal and John and Gerry didn't all down tools yesterday morning, call a brief ceasefire from the campaign trail, and head to Dublin Castle.

What a pity they -- and all electioneering politicians -- weren't in the hall to hear this iconic figure of so many struggles speak about politics and equality, about the moral imperative of levelling society's playing pitch for every citizen, and explain how he's "spent a lifetime trying to remove ancient walls of separation and hurt, and build bridges of hope and new possibilities".

Therefore, they didn't get to listen to Jesse Jackson explain his lifelong, deeply held principles and philosophies, forged in the white-hot heat of America's civil rights turmoil of the 1960s, rather than dreamed up as vote-getting manoeuvres to win an election (a camera-friendly stroll by government ministers along Inchydoney strand springs to mind).

And, finally, what a shame that there wasn't more attention paid to Jesse Jackson who slipped quietly into town under cover of the noisy warfare raging on between the main political parties.

A big public rally might've made some of the legions of angry, cynical, betrayed voters feel a bit better about themselves.

After all, Jesse Jackson is well used to facing immense crowds -- in 2003 he addressed an estimated one million anti-Iraq war protesters in London.

But yesterday he was talking to a far more modest crowd. Instead of political poobahs or captains of industry or fired-up demonstrators, the room was filled with people who work with the disadvantaged and the poor, with academics and activists who had assembled under the banner of the Equality & Rights Alliance (ERA) to launch a campaign to elect candidates who will protect equality and human rights.

Jesse looks much younger than his 69 years, and he wears a serious expression while going about his business, unless he encounters a group of children -- as he did when he was entertained by a young choir from Scoil Oilibheir in Blanchardstown -- and then his familiar face cracks into a wide, warm, beaming smile.

He began by remarking that the last time he visited Ireland in 2004 "the Celtic Tiger was roaring".

But now, he added, the tiger had "lost its teeth -- its economic manufacturing clawing power -- in part driven by too much bank concentration without regulation and oversight".

And he had harsh words about the way that the bailouts have been carried out.

"In this bailout, the people who drove us in this hole because of greed and a lack of oversight are being bailed out and the victims of it are still being left out," he said.

He believes a restructuring of the banking system is urgently required. "Globalised banking and technology were not coupled with integrity and honest values," he said. "Our systems are so intertwined that whether we are in Ireland or the US, the same systems of top-down exploitation required the same massive bailouts. Instead of concentrating more and more power into fewer and fewer banks, they should be broken up into smaller, community-based banks, focused on lending to small businesses, homeowners and communities."

Jesse spoke simply and directly, laying out his belief that political and social responsibility were inextricably intertwined.

"A budget is a moral document," he declared, much to the bemusement of an audience more accustomed to regarding a budget as the fearsome product of the wrath of the government gods.

He expanded on this statement by using a simple analogy.

"Your priorities determine who you are. If at the top of that list is your car and your second home and your clothes and your vacation, and somewhere down the bottom is educating your children, that says volumes about you. Your priorities have to be the most vulnerable in your house, so if it's about your children, and food and water and medicine and light and heat, that says volumes. So your priorities become expressed in the budget."

The civil rights campaigner also spoke eloquently about the necessity of casting a vote in the upcoming election, turning anger into action.

"If you don't vote, you lose the right to criticise," he stated.

"We find our courage in collective action when citizens come together, we find a courage that we don't have alone."

So did the man who had seen so many politicians and powerful figures come and go -- Dr Martin Luther King, John and Bobby Kennedy -- have any advice on how to close the gulf of trust which now exists between the electorate and their elected representatives.

Jesse Jackson's answer was short. "Get politicians you can trust," he said simply.

"And that means electing people who will honour the social covenant between you and them."

The room cheered. What a pity Enda and Eamon and Micheal and John and Gerry weren't there to hear it.

Irish Independent

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