After a groundbreaking yet unsuccessful campaign to capture the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, Jesse Jackson delivered the keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. He had campaigned on the idea of a “rainbow coalition,” a political movement that drew upon the nation’s racial, religious, and economic diversity. He echoed that theme in his convention speech.
… This is not a perfect party. We are not a perfect people. Yet, we are called to a perfect mission. Our mission: to feed the hungry; to clothe the naked; to house the homeless; to teach the illiterate; to provide jobs for the jobless; and to choose the human race over the nuclear race.
We are gathered here this week to
nominate a candidate and adopt a platform which will expand, unify, direct, and
inspire our Party and the nation to fulfill this mission. My constituency is
the desperate, the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the
despised. They are restless and seek relief. They have voted in record numbers.
They have invested the faith, hope, and trust that they have in us. The
Democratic Party must send them a signal that we care. I pledge my best not to
let them down.
If, in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste, or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived someone’s fears, that was not my truest self. If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart. My head — so limited in its finitude; my heart, which is boundless in its love for the human family. I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient: God is not finished with me yet.
Our party is emerging from one of
its most hard fought battles for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination
in our history. But our healthy competition should make us better, not bitter.
We must use the insight, wisdom, and experience of the late Hubert Humphrey as
a balm for the wounds in our Party, this nation, and the world. We must forgive
each other, redeem each other, regroup, and move one. Our flag is red, white
and blue, but our nation is a rainbow — red, yellow, brown, black and white —
and we’re all precious in God’s sight.
America is not like a blanket — one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt.
Even in our fractured state, all of us count and fit somewhere. We have proven that we can survive without each other. But we have not proven that we can win and make progress without each other. We must come together.
From Fannie Lou Hamer in Atlantic City in 1964 to the Rainbow Coalition in San Francisco today; from the Atlantic to the Pacific, we have experienced pain but progress, as we ended American apartheid laws. We got public accommodations. We secured voting rights. We obtained open housing, as young people got the right to vote. We lost Malcolm, Martin, Medgar, Bobby, John, and Viola. The team that got us here must be expanded, not abandoned.
… Old wine skins must make room for new wine. We must heal and expand. The Rainbow Coalition is making room for Arab Americans. They, too, know the pain and hurt of racial and religious rejection. They must not continue to be made pariahs. The Rainbow Coalition is making room for Hispanic Americans who this very night are living under the threat of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill; and farm workers from Ohio who are fighting the Campbell Soup Company with a boycott to achieve legitimate workers’ rights.
The Rainbow is making room for the Native American, the most exploited people of all, a people with the greatest moral claim amongst us. We support them as they seek the restoration of their ancient land and claim amongst us. … The Rainbow Coalition includes Asian Americans, now being killed in our streets — scapegoats for the failures of corporate, industrial, and economic policies.
The Rainbow is making room for the young Americans. Twenty years ago, our young people were dying in a war for which they could not even vote. Twenty years later, young America has the power to stop a war in Central America and the responsibility to vote in great numbers. Young America must be politically active in 1984. The choice is war or peace. We must make room for young America.
We must be unusually committed
and caring as we expand our family to include new members. All of us must be
tolerant and understanding as the fears and anxieties of the rejected and the
party leadership express themselves in many different ways. Too often what we
call hate — as if it were some deeply-rooted philosophy or strategy — is
simply ignorance, anxiety, paranoia, fear, and insecurity. To be strong
leaders, we must be long-suffering as we seek to right the wrongs of our Party
and our nation. We must expand our Party, heal our Party, and unify our Party.
That is our mission in 1984.
Source: Jesse Jackson, Address before the Democratic National Convention, July 18, 1984. Available online via C-Span (https://www.c-span.org/video/?124437-1/democratic-national-convention-day-2).