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Hispanics get voting lessons from the Rev. Jesse Jackson

Rev. Jesse Jackson: The vote can be a powerful tool

Leaders at the Hispanicize conference in Miami wonder why Latinos aren’t presenting a united front and can’t find a unifying leader in the face of anti-Latino rhetoric. The vote, says Jackson, can be a powerful tool.
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Leaders at the Hispanicize conference in Miami wonder why Latinos aren’t presenting a united front and can’t find a unifying leader in the face of anti-Latino rhetoric. The vote, says Jackson, can be a powerful tool.

With all the talk of Latino criminals in the United States, a border wall with Mexico and rising fears of deportation, some Hispanics have begun to think they need a unifying leader who will bring disparate groups together: a Latino Rev. Jesse Jackson or Rev. Martin Luther King, perhaps.

On Wednesday, those attending the Hispanicize 2017 conference in Miami got Jackson himself talking about leadership and organizing strategies. The most powerful tool that both Hispanics and blacks have is the vote, he said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson calls for Americans to fight back against the current political and social atmosphere in the country.

It wasn’t Russian intervention, the electoral college or other factors that cost Hillary Clinton the last presidential election, said Jackson, but rather “the election was lost because of black and brown voter suppression.” Fourteen state have passed voter suppression laws that were in effect this November for the first time, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Voter suppression, Jackson said, affected the outcomes of the votes in North Carolina, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Detroit in the last election.

“We have a common interest in protecting the right to vote,” the civil rights icon told the gathering of Hispanic trendsetters, tech entrepreneurs, marketers, bloggers and other members of the media.

“We are each other’s future,” Jackson said, adding that he encourages young blacks to learn Spanish and young Hispanics to learn English.

Claudia González Romo, who is head of global public advocacy for UNICEF, sat down with Jackson in an on-stage “fireside chat,” and grilled the civil rights icon on what Hispanics could do so they can present a more unified front and achieve their full potential in American society.

“This is the time to step up and do something. We’ve never been so powerful yet so silent,” she said later at a news conference.

Hispanics, now 55 million strong, comprise 17 percent of the U.S. population and have purchasing power of some $3 trillion, she said. More tortillas are sold than bread in the U.S.; more salsa than ketchup, she said.

“That’s potential power — not actual power,” Jackson said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson talks about the life and death of Rev. Martin Luther King jr. at the Hispanicize conference in Miami on April 5, 2017.

“We need to be united and everyone needs to step up ... and embrace the power we have,” said González Romo, the chair of the associated Hispanicize CMO Summit that took place Tuesday. The regular Hispanicize conference, which is being held at the JW Marriott Marquis, closes Thursday.

Jackson also chided some Hispanic contractors who are reportedly bidding to construct President Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. That’s like African-Americans contracting for slave ships to carry blacks back to Africa, he said.

“That’s choosing dollars over dignity,” Jackson said. The wall, he said, in an interview with the Miami Herald is designed to “demean,” not improve U.S. border security. “It symbolizes something very ugly.”

In the fireside chat, which also was presented by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, González Romo said Hispanics aren’t adequately represented in the political arena and their stories aren’t being told in the media.

One of the problems is that Cuban Americans don’t necessarily have the same issues as Central Americans or Mexican Americans or those from other Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Jackson’s advice: “You must search for the common denominator. You have to bond by common values, not just ethnicity.” What made labor leader César Chávez such an effective advocate for farmworkers is that he pointed out to the rest of America their mistreatment and the inhumane conditions under which they worked, he said.

“Sometimes suffering is the common cord,” Jackson said. What links blacks and Hispanics today is “the idea of increasingly hostile isolation.” What can bind them, he said, is the fight for “human rights for all human beings.”

Marching and individual actions still matter, he said. “When you’re locked out, you have to flight.”

Both he and González Romo decried the incivility now present in public discourse. “Trump is such an equal opportunity insulter,” Jackson said. Such “acid rain,” he said, “comes from the top” in his administration.

Jackson was in Memphis on Tuesday, marking the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Jackson was with King the day he was gunned down at the Lorraine Motel.

“It pains me afresh all over again,” he told the Miami Herald. But, Jackson said, “He was shot into immortality. If the killer knew the aftermath, maybe he wouldn’t have shot him.”

If King were alive today, Jackson said he would have made the same case to Hispanics that he tried to make Wednesday: “Latinos must make full use of their vote. They must register to vote.”

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