Voice of Voiceless

Metro Magazine - Monday, December 01, 2003

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist and former candidate to the US presidency comes to Bangkok as part of the International Peace Foundation's series of talks on peace.

The foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand last month became the venue for one of Rev. Jesse Jackson's speeches in the Kingdom. The club was packed with journalists, members of the local American community and diplomats who all wanted to hear first-hand the US politician's take on the war on Iraq.

It was no surprise that the civil rights activist opposes the war. To answer the talk's running theme "Can the US be a Force for Peace?", he suggests that there is a possibility, but only if the country acknowledges its place in the world. It must accept that it is not only a superpower but also a citizen of the global village. He uses the Olympic Games as a metaphor for an ideal theater where countries interact with each other. In this sports competition, there is a shared set of roles that is observed and there is always a level playing field.

The US government's decision to act on Iraq outside the UN umbrella bothers Jackson a lot. He believes that in doing so, his country has deviated from its core democratic values. Several months after the unseating of Saddam Hussein, the US remains in a quagmire. "Iraq has become the headquarters of resistance to the US." And it is taking its toll on the occupying forces. Almost every day, there are reports of attacks on American soldiers, most resulting in injury and death.

What he suggests then is for Germany, France and China to come into Iraq and work under the UN flag. He believes "a multicultural coalition may mean a different fate." Though there is no guarantee that this prescription will work immediately, if at all. Putting German, French an Chinese soldiers on the ground will not necessarily stop the bloody attacks from occurring. After all, we've witnessed the strike at the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations (the latter resulting on the death of UN representative Sergin Vieira de Mello). It is becoming clear, however, that the problem in Iraq has become too complex for the US-led coalition to handle alone. So, countries such as Germany, France and Russia, which initially opposed the war, should also take part. Like he says, it is not the time for finger-painting.

Knowing that there were a lot of journalists in the audience, Jackson also had words on the media coverage of what he calls a "Nintendo" war. He dislikes how "embedded" journalists riding on tanks acted when coalition troops entered Iraq. They acted as if it were a party. He also points out how Jessica Lynch was lionized by the American press while a black female soldier from her infantry didn't get the headlines, though she sustained more serious injuries. Most importantly, he questions the denial of coverage of the recent casualties coming home from the campaign.

He also has thoughts on issues apart from Iraq. A new formula is necessary for Israel and Palestine to get back to the negotiation table. He advocates the two-state solution and disarmament. He also opposes deeply the construction of the new Iron Curtain rising among the settlements. Burma's future, he believes, lies in democracy and not in a military government. He espouses neighboring countries to encourage this change. A change in the political conditions in Burma is a prerequisite for all the refugees living in Thailand before they return. In the meantime, they must be given humane treatment and be subject in conditions as directed by international convention.

Because Rev. Jesse Jackson is no alien to issues of human rights violations and economic injustice, it is easy for him to have an understanding of the social and political problems in areas far from Illinois. But it is quite clear that he most is affected by issues closer to home. During his dialogue, he underscored the current social imbalance in the US that people seem to have been forgotten. For example, he pointed out the fact that there are 50 million Americans without healthcare. The costs of college education have risen by 40%, forcing millions of young Americans out of work and out of school. Meanwhile in every state there are more blacks and Latinos in jail than in college. And lately there have been record job losses in the states of South Carolina and Texas, Bush's home state.

The internal economic problems of America will be an important issue as much as Iraq during the US election next year. Many speculate that there are good chances that George W. Bush will not get reelected, but so far, the Democrats haven't produced a strong candidate. Indeed the Americans present in the forum were eager to ask Jesse Jackson which Democratic candidate he will endorse. This is because, despite the allegations journalist Kenneth Timmerman threw at him last year, Jackson still commands huge support from the black population and remains a staunch spokesman for the many disenfranchised workers of American. He mentions the names of Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt and John Kerry but believes that Dean has the "most traction and attraction," because he was unequivocal of the government's approach to the Iraq war and has challenged the huge tax cut for the top 1% of the population.

But regardless of who ends up in the White House, the next US president will inherit enormous challenges. Not only does he need to turn the US economy around but he or she must address the issue of redefining the US's role in a post 9-11 world.