Rev. Jesse Jackson signs a baseball for a fan after his first speech under the watchful eye of President Roderick J. McDavis
Photographer: Emily Martin
The crowd watches Rev. Jesse Jackson deliver speech at Memorial Auditorium
Photographer: Emily Martin
Jesse Jackson addresses standing-room only crowd in Baker University Center Ballroom
Photographer: Stephanie Morrison
Sep 27, 2011
By George Mauzy
Longtime civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Athens on Monday to solicit Ohio University students' help in a national "war on poverty."
In the first of his two public speeches on Monday, Jackson delivered a call to action to an audience of more than 200 people from the West Portico of Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.
In his second address, he reiterated the need for a "war on poverty" and asked the standing-room only crowd in the Baker University Center Ballroom to join the movement to make America better by ending poverty with the help of the U.S. government.
In his first speech, Jackson said the Memorial Auditorium location was significant because in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the same place and called for a "war on poverty" and announced his intention to build a "Great Society," which would make life better for the nation's poorest people.
Jackson credited President Johnson for many of the significant laws and social programs that still benefit poor people today, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, food stamps, increases in minimum wage and Pell Grant funds, Medicare and Medicaid. He said no other president invested more resources in Appalachia than President Johnson.
Jackson told the College Green crowd that poverty is on the rise in the U.S., with more than 46 million people living in poverty and the nation needs to return to the L.B.J. moment.
"Appalachia has become ground zero for poverty," Jackson said. "It shouldn't remain ground zero. Where are the voices for the people? Too many people are silent."
Jackson also called for the nation to forgive student loan debt. He said large amounts of debt can harm students' ability to graduate from college, get married and find a job.
"You're today's hope and tomorrow's future," Jackson told the students. "It's time to free students now. It's time to form a mass student union. The headquarters for jobs and justice should be Ohio University."
He told students that they should demand that the nation wipes out malnutrition, provides every child with medical care, and they should make sure they collectively use their voting power for their best interests.
At the conclusion of both of his talks, Jackson said Ohio University should erect a statue of President Johnson on campus to commemorate his 1964 visit. He asked students to organize themselves locally and join his national movement to create a
"war on poverty."
During his Athens visit, Jackson also found time to eat breakfast with Ohio University student leaders, perform several radio, newspaper and television interviews and tour the area to witness Appalachia's extreme poverty.
After hosting a question and answer session at each venue, Jackson told the audiences that they could find out more information about the "war on poverty" movement at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition website.
Students react to Rev. Jesse Jackson's message
"I think he was very clear about his point. He not only spoke from the heart, but he had statistics about what is actually going on to enlighten those of us who don't have a clue." - Tenishia Benson, senior
"Even though we know Athens is the poorest county in Ohio, most of us are not aware of the full extent of the issues and how we can be a part of the solution." - Kourtney Scott, senior
"I was definitely inspired by Rev. Jackson's speech. I thought it was wonderful how he connected his talk to LBJ's speech on campus and rooted his message in Appalachia and what we can do to start a movement against poverty. A lot of discussions against poverty seem to leave Appalachia out of it. He told students that they're part of the community here and they can mobilize here and become a voice against poverty. I thought that was really beautiful." - Tracy Kelly, president of Graduate Student Senate.
"Rev. Jackson's message was primarily inspiring, especially for people living in Appalachia. A lot of people don't know the history of the Appalachia area, so it was a positive message that he was trying to convey that more people should organize and speak out about more things instead of sitting around and waiting for things to happen. If more people know about poverty and organize themselves, then issues like poverty can be addressed." - Bryan Morton - junior