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Keep hope alive

By Tom Collins
Arizona Daily Wildcat
May 4, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

The year was 1992 and a national mayoral conference was meeting in Austin, Texas. My family and I were staying at the Marriott hotel downtown. We had moved out of our house that day and were staying the night before embarking for Phoenix.

Getting on an elevator I had my one brush with greatness. I got on elevator and, not watching where I was going, stepped on the foot of one of the riders. I looked up and it was Jesse Jackson. I grinned the stupid grin of a 15-year-old and extended my hand to say hello. It was awkward; even that night at dinner I felt I had missed an opportunity. After all, my family had long been Jesse Jackson fans, both my grandparents and uncle had been volunteers for his abortive presidential campaigns, another uncle marched with him throughout the 1960s. My uncle has these great photographs of he and Jesse laughing it up on a dais in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Later that night, I slipped a note to the front desk addressed to Rev. Jackson. I just wanted to go on the record as being something other than a goofy white kid who tended not to look where I was going.

Years have passed since then, and Rev. Jackson has risen and fallen and risen again as an American public figure. We, as a nation, remember, for example, the Jackson who marginalized himself with insensitive comments, the Jackson who then-candidate Bill Clinton made such a public showing of disassociation. We mock Jackson's occasionally awkward manner. We, as a nation, mock his politics as outmoded and out of step.

And even this weekend as he braved bombed-out Belgrade to bring home Steven Gonzales, Andrew Ramirez and Christopher Stone, coverage of Jackson played up his mission as unauthorized and suggested that he has undermined U.S. position on the war with his talk of negotiation. There is no room for liberal Christian ministers in the U.S. today. Jackson has become, according to CNN, "something of a gadfly."

But keep these words, spoken by Jackson in a pre-recorded press conference interrupted for more so-called news from Littleton, in mind:

"Faith without works is dead." A simple albeit religious sentiment, but one of grave importance in today's America. And let there be no mistake about who has, with his mission, called the nation to reflect on military policy, despite war's newfound approval ratings. It is Jesse Jackson.

As it has been Jesse Jackson, who with his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, has kept the drum beating for economic opportunity and equality for all Americans. It is Rev. Jackson who, old liberal that he is, continues to talk about people of all races who are being left behind by the current economic boom. Being a Christian, Jackson prayed with Slobodan Milosevic, a sinner. Being Jesse Jackson, he has not sought out the safe and popular position.

The off-putting thing in this time of war is just how far right the safe and popular position. For example, where David Duke once ran away from his past as KKK Grand Dragon, in his most recent campaign, and one of his most successful, Duke has returned to race-baiting full force. Duke missed a run-off for former Rep. Bob Livingston's seat by three percentage points. Finding an anti-war Democrat is like trying to find Pat Buchanan at AME Church. We are a further and further divided country, both economically and culturally. And faith without works is dead.

Look at the constant, continuous Columbine High School coverage and imagine if this story was not about a couple of upper-middle-class kids who shot other middle-class kids. Look at the local coverage of the Pizza Hut murders. You would think that the rate of violent crime is up, when in fact violent crime is down to near record lows. There is an implication in it all: "This kind of thing should not happen in white neighborhoods and involve white children." Yes, white kids are not the only group hurt by such events but the fact remains, the mainstream world is more and more limited in its world view.

Ironically, in America today it is William Bennett who gets to claim that good, God-fearing white people are the people under fire. William Bennett on Larry King, while Rev. Jackson is relegated to yesterday's news. After all an arrest was made in the two-week-old Columbine story. And the bombs still fall and the bombs still fall. Faith without works is dead.

Yesterday the families of Steven Gonzales, Andrew Ramirez and Christopher Stone were reunited with their sons at an Air Force base in Germany. Gonzales, Ramirez and Stone were worse for wear but in good shape. The images were joyful and sobering and hinted at the cost of war, the cost of violence, for all people. And to see Rev. Jackson cross with these courageous men into Croatia was to see hope come alive.

Let's not forget that it was the works, it is always the works: Keep hope alive.