by RW Spisak Jr.
Reverend Jesse Jackson pulled up in front of the Central Presbyterian Church in NE Denver on a beautiful sunlit morning. The Sherman street church had been home to "Progressive Central" an event created by the Progressive Democrats of America, running the week of the Democratic National Convention.
This beautiful Church, was clearly the home to more than just this weeks political activism. This was a church that was an active participant in compassionate future building. I wandered a bit, in this cornucopia of activism. It's entire lobby witness to a wide variety of causes and activist opportunities. There were tables spread around the room like a glorious smorgasbord of activism. Impeachment, Anti-War, Peace and Justice, Code Pink, book-publishers, "Got Spine?" activists, Health Care not Warfare campaigners, and more, all filling a lobby that rang with activism.
Reverend Jackson walked across the street into the church and was greeted by one after another happy activists. He walked down toward the front of the chapel to speak, this battle scarred veteran of the human rights movement striding purposefully with the firm knowledge of battles won and good progress made. His legacy will long be remembered as one in which although not without travail, certainly as one who spent his life deeply committed to human rights and dignity.
He started out with a discussion of the long slow arc of progress on the human rights front. He spoke of those who through the decades of history have made a begrudged place for the disenfranchised. He spoke of the civil rights marches and the freedom rides, and of all those many brave hearts who gave their blood and lives so that later others could stand on those powerful shoulders. He explained it was because of these freedom fighters Rosa Parks could take her seat, and Senator Obama could find his place at the table of American politics.
He reminded us that the contemporary glow surrounding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "I have a dream" speech often obscures the ugliness that surrounded it. The reality of it's surroundings should not be completely lost from sight. He explained he'd come from jail, to stand beside Dr. King as the "I have a dream" speech was etched in the hearts of America. He described how as they traveled across the south, reaching out to communities, the forces that opposed them, extracted a heavy price for the temerity of these dreams.
Even the indignities of not being able to use motels or restaurants as they made their slow dangerous path across an apartheid ravaged America. The beautiful glow of the march on Washington and its power as a vision of a future America, all too often obscures the reality of that painful desperate time. Our progress today, was so dependent on those who gave all, with no sure sense into what future they were delivering their own lives and those of their families. We do those heroes no favors, failing to remember what that slow, painful, and brutal birthing cost.
Reverend Jackson, the activist and speaker knows how to reach past the despair into those deep wells of resolve that must feed the struggle for dignity. He called upon us and asked us to repeat along with him, "KEEP" he intoned... making the acoustic space for our echo. "Keep" we would respond, with fervor, faith and certainty. "Hope" he challenged pausing again, building a rhythm. "Hope" we agreed. Smiles all around the great stained glass lined chapel, "Alive" he insisted. Feeling all history leaning it’s heavy presence into our midst, "Alive", we agreed.
"Keep" he urged again, "Keep" we promised. "Hope" he called, speaking with, and yet beyond us, to that larger often brutal world. "HOPE" we promised, each catching a small part of that historic flame. That had stood in Selma, that had marched into an unknown future beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. While they drafted a revised history for our divided America. "ALIVE" he proclaimed. "ALIVE" we spoke, knowing what world we faced beyond these dream-etched walls. That America has made progress, is indisputable, that we have succeeded in bringing this country further toward an understanding of the basic humanity of every child of these shores is true. And as true as that is, the work continues. That Senator Barak Obama has achieved the leadership of the Democratic party ticket is now a historic fact.
In today's America we face as in no previous time, an opportunity to make a small down payment on that sacrifice by freedom fighters from the past. We can stand with them an oppose the remaining poisonous vestiges of that brutal time. We stood that day in the chapel of Central Presbyterian Church and said with Reverend Jackson. "Keep" he demanded. "KEEP" we responded. "HOPE" he urged. "HOPE" we agreed. "ALIVE" he insisted. There, in that church, in the hearts of these activists, and outside in the sunny streets of Denver, where a few blocks away history will report that 45 years after Dr. King and the bearers of a brighter banner for humanity called out.... the "I have a dream" speech defying the haters... "Alive" we promised. Standing as we did that morning in the colored light falling through those beautiful golden hued stain-glass windows these hundred passionate souls poised on the surface of a planet spinning through the great void of space. We promised... "KEEP"...against time... against hatred... "HOPE" in the face of corporatism... "ALIVE" in the face of the simple fact of grey-haired feeble mortality.
Reverend Jackson included one final anecdote, revealing another glimpse of the shimmering illusions that obscure the truth.
He spoke of visiting the ailing Governor George Wallace, who had been one of the staunchest proponents of American Apartheid. He was in the final time of his life succumbing to both the effects of the failed assassination attempt, and the cancer that would end his days. Reverend Jackson had gone to pray with him and hoped to better understand the heart of the man who had done much to stop the march of human freedom in America. "I asked him, why was it, that he set the dogs and the police on horse back on the Freedom marchers?" Wallace said, "I did it to protect them". Reverend Jackson paused, showing that the response he hadn't understood the answer. It didn't make any sense. He asked Wallace, "what did he mean, he set the dogs and police on the marchers, to protect them?" Wallace replied, "there was a mob on the other side of the bridge, and if the marchers had crossed the bridge, they would have all been murdered."
Like him, we understood, that many things are not what they seemed. "KEEP" he said, "KEEP" we vowed. "HOPE" he insisted. "HOPE" we promised. "ALIVE", he insisted. Energized and inspired as we were, yes, "ALIVE" we affirmed. And we will take his message along with us.