From Protest to Process: Ann Braden’s Inside View of the Rainbow Campaign

From Protest to Process: Ann Braden’s Inside View of the Rainbow Campaign

Interview By Cliff Kuhn

Vol. 10, No. 5, 1988, pp. 10, 12-15

Sidebar: I. Winning and Losing at the 1988 Democratic Convention

As a supporter of the Rainbow Coalition and the Jackson campaign I felt pretty good about the convention. Now, some people didn’t so that’s going to be a topic of discussion for some time. It depends on where you start from. I felt that Jesse Jackson and our movement–generally the peace and justice forces in this country–set the tone of the convention. Although we didn’t have the power, we had the moral authority. Hardly a speaker got up to that podium that wasn’t plagiarizing Jesse Jackson. I felt that you could see many of our ideas in that convention. We didn’t come there with enough votes to get what we really wanted which was the nomination for Jesse. We’ve just got to face facts, we didn’t. I think partly that the Democratic machinery was rigged against us, and some of that is going to change in 1992 with the new rules that we got adopted. But we came with an awful lot of votes and we represent a lot in this country. Jesse Jackson and other people who spoke at the convention who are a part of our movement–Ron Dellums, Richard Hatcher, and others–really lifted up a new vision for a new direction for this country.

There was some discussion about where we go from here. Obviously people are asking, what did we get out of this? Certainly you will hear some people say that we didn’t get anything. Some of us haven’t done much for the last year except work in the Jackson campaign. We’ve let other things go and maybe important things we should have done. I was especially concerned about increasing our white vote, which I was not satisfied with in 1984; I wasn’t satisfied with it this year either although we did a lot better and there was a more conscious effort to do that.

I know there were some people who were disillusioned. Not with Jesse, not with our campaign, but with the whole system and whether it was worth it, and how can you crack the Democratic Party, and everything’s rigged against us and is it really worth it? And did we win anything? I think we won a lot.

You would not know it to read the establishment media, because they tried to do everything from the very beginning of Jesse’s campaign to destroy it in one way or another. First they belittled it, and when he obviously was getting a lot of votes then they began to figure out different ways to attack him. They looked for some scandal in his background. That didn’t work. The whole line, ‘he can’t win,’ came from the press. We were not really successful in overcoming that psychology.

If everybody who thought Jesse was the best candidate had voted for him, I really think he’d be the nominee today. Our main failure was that we couldn’t overcome the ‘can’t win’ thing, which was nothing but giving in to racism. He could have won. On the floor the night after Jesse spoke I ran into Merle Hanson, the farmer advocate, who was with the Iowa delegation. He said what is just so heartbreaking is when you listened to Jesse’s speech last night and saw the reaction to it from people both there and in other places watching it on TV you know he could have won. He’s able to overcome all those barriers once people can actually hear him.

But we didn’t win the nomination. I want to talk about what we did win. Jesse’s whole performance was practically a miracle. Everybody knows the figures. He got seven million votes. He won ninety-two congressional districts. He carried state after state and came in second in the others. He got more convention votes than any runner-up has ever gotten-1218.5 at the end.

The mass media played it up as the Jackson forces have been defeated. In fact, the day after the vote on the platform they played that we were defeated on those two planks therefore the Jackson forces had been defeated and Dukakis was firmly in control.

I don’t think Dukakis was in control of that convention. Jesse was in control morally. He was setting the tone. It has been played up as a defeat, when it wasn’t. We came there a tremendous bloc of voters who cannot be ignored in this country.

At this convention more than any other in history there was a real rainbow in the racial sense and more delegates of non-European descent-not just black, but Asian and Latino and Native American. You felt a real sense of pride on the part of everybody that we represented this quilt. Jesse presented it as a thing to be proud of. The rainbow means a lot more to us than the racial quilt, but that’s one element of it.

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It doesn’t make headlines that before we ever got to this convention because of the force of the Jackson movement we had basic changes in the rules of the Democratic Party. We won everything the Jackson forces went into the rules committee asking for. Well, not entirely; we’d like to cut out the superdelegates entirely, but in 1992 they’ll be cut down by a third. The winner-take-all system that really did us in in some states will be eliminated. The bonus delegate thing which worked against us will be eliminated. There are some other technical changes which add up to be important. Somebody calculated that if the rules now in effect had been in effect this year Jesse would have come to Atlanta with 400 more delegates and Dukakis with 400 fewer. We would have had a different scenario. We won that.

We’ve changed the equation within the Democratic Party. In terms of the way the Democratic leadership looks at this movement, it’s been legitimatized; it’s gotten respect. The visible expression of that fact is that they’ve added these members to the Democratic National Committee who are Jesse’s nominees. How much power that represents, I don’t know, but they recognize that this is at least a wing of the party that is a significant movement in this country.

Sidebar: II. A Platform Worth a Fight

To some people the platform doesn’t matter. A platform is usually ignored by candidates and forgotten once they get in office. But a good platform gives you something to fight about. We got a fairly good platform though people didn’t realize it because they read that we got defeated on the two planks that went to the floor. One was for a no first-strike policy–I don’t know how anybody can be against that–and the other one was tax-the-rich. The Jackson forces were basically saying that we will not increase taxes, in fact we will try to reduce taxes on low-income and middle-income people, but that we will go back at least to 1977 in terms of the taxes that the corporations and very rich people are paying. Most of us, since most of us aren’t rich, should be for that. It’s a policy trying to reverse the unfair trend of the tax structure, not just since Reagan came in but since World War II, because the tax burden in this country has shifted dramatically since World War II. Sixty-something percent of the tax revenue came from corporations and very high income people. But now that’s completely reversed and the largest share, maybe up in the 70 percent range, comes from poor and middle income people. All the Jackson forces were asking was that you undo what Reagan has done, which has been robbing from the poor to give to the rich. As Jesse said in his convention speech, they’ve had this party, let them pay for it. The people who argued against that plank were really dishonest. I don’t mind somebody being against me if they’ll be honest. They were presenting that platform proposal like it was going to be taxing poor people. “We can’t do that or we won’t get elected like Mondale.” It wasn’t that and they knew it.

Those were two planks we lost and it was heartbreaking. But of the thirteen points of dispute on the platform, we won in negotiation on nine of them. They are not worded as strongly as if we’d had the votes to elect Jackson but they are pretty good planks. On Central America, on nuclear testing, on health care, on headstart and programs for children, on budget priorities. We got in our concepts of what the priorities should be for human needs.

The one plank that did not go to a vote but that we think was a victory in that we were able to have our speaker on the floor was on the question of self-determination for the Palestinian people. A lot of people who were watching TV that night had an opportunity to hear a viewpoint they just haven’t heard. That was a victory in itself.

The other thing that people don’t realize is that the whole thrust of that platform was what Jesse has been pushing since 1984 basically economic justice at home and peace abroad. It really is there and of course we have to bring it to life. I was wandering around the floor that night after we lost those votes, wandering around like everybody else; nobody listened to the speakers. Suddenly I heard Richard Hatcher at the podium speaking on one of the platform planks. Ron Dellums was speaking on the South Africa plank. This platform calls for declaring South Africa a terrorist state. I thought, “Gee, I’d better sit down and listen to what’s going on. Because this is our platform.” It really is.

In 1984 in San Francisco one of the disputed planks that we lost was affirmative action. This time that’s in there. People ought to look at it. We know it can be a scrap of paper that doesn’t mean anything. But it also gives us something that we can hold those two candidates accountable for. We can use it as a litmus test for other candidates who want our support. I think the very fact that Jesse could set the direction of that platform shows again that we have taken a major step toward our real objective–to change the

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direction of this country.

We came out of this election season the winner in the sense that the movement for peace and justice in this country is stronger than ever. It has legitimacy. It has a power base within the Democratic Party. It gives us certain advantages. There are disadvantages. I think more advantages than disadvantages at this point in history. It gives us a platform from which we are going to reach millions of more people before 1992.

When we came to Atlanta we knew Jesse wasn’t going to be the presidential nominee. We really didn’t think he was going to be the vice-presidential nominee and a lot of people didn’t want him to be. I don’t know whether he wanted to be. Jesse talked for a couple of hours with his delegates on Friday morning in Atlanta. One of the things he said was, “You people are saying they didn’t get nothing. That’s like if you go to the grocery store and your family is really hungry and your people need something to eat and they haven’t got any steak. You come home with an empty sack. And money in your pocket. Yet there was hamburger and sausage and pork chops and you didn’t get them. Is that what you are going to do?”

We didn’t get the steak but there was a bit of sausage and hamburger and we’ll get the steak next time.

A lot of people keep saying, “Let’s get out of this mess” of the Democratic Party. But Jesse has said since ’84, “No, the conservatives hope we’ll leave. They are scared we’ll stay and take over the party.” He thinks it’s possible to use this machinery to further a peace and justice agenda.

So far he has been right.

I think we are in a new stage of history. Jesse said the other day this is not a short sprint. It’s a long-distance run. I think we passed a major milestone this year.

Sidebar: III. Beyond Protest

My first political action was forty years ago in 1948 in the Progressive Party, which was an alternative program not too different from what we’re working for now. Henry Wallace–a lot of younger people don’t even know who he was now–was the standard bearer. He was talking about the same thing–justice at home, peace abroad–and it was just when the cold war was starting and the segregationists and racists were gaining strength in the South. That was a powerful movement. It was destroyed. That was a special period, the cold war and everything.

Henry Wallace, who had been in the Roosevelt administration and then started this third party movement because the Democratic party was going on a different direction, was a good guy. To lead the kind of movement we need, frankly, he was the wrong color. He was white. I’m white and you’re white and there’s nothing wrong with white folks. We’ve got a role to play. But because of the whole history of a racist society, I think it’s inevitable that the only way this inclusive coalition that we need can really come together is with the leadership of people of color.

Forty years ago black people, especially in the South, were just being able to struggle and emerge out of the seventy-five or almost a hundred years of terror. But they were organizing and lining up to vote at the courthouses all over the South. I was a young newspaper reporter then watching them line up in Birmingham where one of them got registered. Veterans coming back from World War II and all that sort of thing. That was going on.

That movement for black freedom had to emerge and develop to bring to the fore leadership that could pull together the coalition that would include everybody. That has happened now. At the founding convention of the Rainbow in 1986 I really got to thinking about it. That was the first time I heard Jesse talk about the quilt–how one patch isn’t big enough but you put all the patches together and you’ve got a quilt. He said that to poor white people in the mountains of Kentucky during this campaign–a big rally up there. He says, “Your patch isn’t big enough, but you put it together with all the farmers in the Midwest and the paper workers in Mobile and we’ll get together.” When we come together this way we are the new majority. We are not minorities anymore.

Most people want a government that reflects humane policies. But all these people who want a new direction are coming from different directions. You go to meetings and talk about forming a coalition. We sit in a meeting and plan it but it doesn’t happen. Until now.

That is the new element that makes it possible to talk about this new majority running the country. That is not rhetoric. I think we are going to do it. But it is such a shift of gears for people like me who spent the last forty years–all my adult life–protesting. Your psychology gets to the point that you think that’s what the social justice movement is-protesting. We are real good at picketing and we know how to descend on city hall and raise hell and get some things done. You can beat city hall. We do it a lot.

But it almost never occurs to us that we could be running city hall. I remember in the ’50s and I can remember a different group in the ’60s, revolutionaries, that would sit around and talk about seizing power. I don’t think they believed it. About two years ago I started thinking and it was like I had to change the gears of my thinking. We don’t always have to be a protest movement on the outside. Our movement can take power and run this government and change the policies. That is like a new thought.

* * *

A lot of us think we need a real two-party system in the

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country. The traditional Democrats and the Republicans are so much alike that you can’t tell them apart. The current Democratic leadership is having to acknowledge Jesse Jackson now but of course we know they came out of the ’84 election with this strange analysis that some way they could win all these voters if they sounded more like Republicans than Republicans. That never made any sense. If somebody wanted to vote for that they’d go vote Republican.

Jesse has given them a different way to win, to offer an alternative program to the country. In practicality, the advantage to building this movement through the Democratic Party is that without it I’m not sure we as a movement would have reached millions of people this year with our message. A lot of people have heard the truth from Jesse Jackson and those who have worked with him this year. I am not sure that would have happened if we had not been in the Democratic structure. Somebody told me a hundred million people were watching Jesse on TV. It was information they needed.

We are talking about power. We are tired of being a protest movement. The objective of this movement is to take governmental power. That scares some people. We have seen power corrupts and all that. Some of us think that the policies of our government are so bad that we’ve got to be about taking power and changing them.

For example, if Dukakis wins it is possible that within six months we will get official government action declaring South Africa a terrorist state. That is not just semantics. That sets up certain things sanctions, stopping trade, stopping trade with countries that are giving South Africa arms. If you are outside that structure you do not have access to that governmental power. It is a debatable question. This is the course that Jesse Jackson has set and I think it is working in the interests of the people right now.

Sidebar: IV. Of Men and Movements

Martin Luther King wasn’t the movement although people are not learning that now, unfortunately, the way King is being presented. On the other hand this movement wouldn’t be at the stage it is without Jesse Jackson.

I do not like to compare Jesse with Dr. King because it gets you into all kinds of crazy things. They are two very different people, very different personalities. I think you can make some leadership comparisons. I had the deepest respect for Martin’s character, and I do for Jesse’s, too. I saw Martin take some very courageous stands. He would do what he thought was right whether he was going to get glory for it or not. But I’ve always felt that the real genius of Martin Luther King was that he was able to articulate and bring to the attention of the country the message that many people were feeling in their inner beings. Therefore he became a catalyst that did not create the movement at all; he didn’t even create the Montgomery movement as we know, but that role as catalyst did raise it to a different level. In the process I think the movement made Martin. I think he changed and grew under the impact of that movement. He responded to it and to the challenge of history and what was expected of him.

In a sense you can make a parallel with Jesse. His great genius is that he is able to articulate what everybody’s longing for, in terms of a new direction, a new vision. It is something that is welling up from the people and he is able to give a voice to that. He has risen to do that at this time. He has become the catalyst. The movement as I see it, with a capital ‘M,’ has never stopped. We got repressed in the late sixties. Some people got co-opted in the seventies. People went on strike. They went on to doing different things. Jesse has pulled it back into a national focus. It is growing because of that and much faster than it would have otherwise. In the process it is creating Jesse. He is changing and growing under the impact of that movement. I think that is the way it should be.

He isn’t perfect. Martin wasn’t. None of us are. We are all a bundle of contradiction But Jesse gets more blame for it. The problem is that if you are in leadership the mix of good and evil gets exaggerated. People can tell you all the bad things about Jesse. Before Martin got put on a pedestal they could tell you all the bad things about Martin.

I think that Jesse has developed into a great leader under the impact of this movement. Obviously he had the potential to do that.

Sidebar: V. In the Embrace of the Party

I think Jesse has enough sense not to become co-opted, though that is the strategy of the traditional Democratic Party at this point. They would like to have ignored this movement until it went away. It hasn’t gone away. So the next thing is to try to co-opt it. If they are not able to do that they may start trying to crush it. That has been the history–if they can’t co-opt you they repress you. We are not to that stage yet.

The convention was orchestrated to try to make it look like the traditional Democrats had taken Jesse and his movement in to their fold and they are in control. Our people weren’t thinking that way. The most vital meeting that happened outside of the convention hall was the Friday morning meeting with Jesse with his delegates. They all came–Dukakis and Bentsen and [DNC Chairman Paul] Kirk and Kitty Dukakis. They all trooped on the stage with Jesse. I think they were impressed. There were these hundreds of delegates up at eight o’clock in the morning. I bet they couldn’t get their’s up at eight o’clock in the morning.

Someone said, “What do you mean by co-optation?” I had to think about it. Somebody asks you what you mean by

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something when you’ve been using the word for years. I think what I mean by co-optation is that there’s a dominant force that tries to co-opt a movement by pulling in our people one by one, using our energy and our commitment for their agenda so that our agenda gets lost. They might co-opt some individuals. I don’t think they’ll co-opt Jesse. I don’t think this movement as a whole is co-optable. I think it’s too strong.

Jesse has sort of laid out a practical agenda–not an issue agenda; we know what the issues are–of things that people need to be about now. He is saying that people need to really work in the November election. Some people are going to have a hard time doing that. Some people may not do it. There are arguments for doing it. The most essential thing right now is to remove from Washington those people who have been running the government for the last eight years.

Dukakis has pledged he is not going to support contra aid. He is not going to support UNITA in Angola. He has said that. You have got a platform that says we will declare South Africa a terrorist state. You can’t say there is no difference because there is even though it is not our program, our candidate. Jesse is saying that the first thing we have got to do is get those folks out of Washington. The only way to do that is to work for the Democratic ticket and see that they get elected.

That is not all. He told people to go home and do at the state, city, county and congressional district level what we are doing at the national level–create a new equation in the Democratic Party. Make sure that our forces are represented. That hasn’t been done in a lot of states. He uses Mississippi sometimes as a model because after ’84 they went home and organized and now the Rainbow forces or the Jackson forces have taken over the leadership of the Democratic Party. He is also saying, “Run for everything.” Run for the Senate, run for the Congress, run for mayor, run for city council, run for dogcatcher. Get your Rainbow candidates to run. That started in ’84.

He keeps stressing the census process in 1990 because if that isn’t done right it can screw up a lot of things on the numbers that give you your representation. Then be organized to deal with the legislatures in 1991 on reapportionment. By then we are into another presidential race. There is plenty to do.

In tangible expressions of respect for the Jackson movement, the Democratic leadership has committed itself to support some really important legislation. The Dellums bill on complete sanctions against South Africa will probably pass now. Another is the D.C. statehood bill which affects all of us, because with the present power relationships in Washington it means two more progressive Senators and another progressive governor. There has also been a commitment to comprehensive child care. They have also promised to implement the economic set-asides for minorities. That is millions of dollars in goods and services that would amount to a community investment program in minority communities.

There is commitment to the Conyers bill for on-site, same-day registration so that people can go on voting day and register to vote. Jesse Jackson and all the forces around him feel that that this measure is critically important for expanding the electorate; it already exists in some states. It would make a a difference. I was working at Jackson headquarters on Super Tuesday. People were coming in droves wanting to know where they could vote for Jesse Jackson. We said, “Where’s your precinct?” They didn’t know anything about a precinct. “Are you registered?” They weren’t registered. It just occurred to them that day they wanted to go vote. That is what this bill says they would be able to do. All the election officials are going to scream and holler. The bill includes money for the states to set the machinery for this, the necessary computers to make it possible. There’s plenty to do.

Sidebar: VI. Politics, Power and Possibility

I think a lot of people who have been in protest movements almost shy away from actually taking over. Do we really want power? We have seen what power does and power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Maybe we’d rather be out here real pure, picketing all our lives. I’ve thought about that, too. It seems to me that we really think that the policies of the government are so destructive and are destroying people here and all over the world. Threatening the existence of this plane-then we’ve got to think about taking power and changing those policies. Now it is really possible. It is going to happen. I think it is going to happen soon. I think it could have happened this year. The problem is that even if we had been able to nominate and elect Jesse as President this year–if that miracle had happened–we might not have been ready for it because we didn’t have Congress. We can have Congress. We won ninety-two congressional districts. One thing he’s telling people is to go home and see whether your representative in Congress is representing what that vote stood for. If he isn’t then he or she needs to be replaced. All that can happen pretty quick. I started saying a year and a half ago that we’d have a Rainbow government in Washington by the year 2000. This year I thought maybe 1988, maybe 1992. I think it will happen soon. I hope it happens in my lifetime. I would like to live to see a government in Washington that really cared about the people of this country. That was committing our resources to meeting the needs of the people of this country and working with the people struggling for a better life all over the world instead of trying to crush them in my name and using my tax money.

I grew up during the New Deal which I think did have those commitments–or the movement forced it to have them. Ever since World War II we just haven’t had that. We’ve had to be ashamed of our government. Now wouldn’t it be nice to be real proud of our government for a change.

I think we are going to live to see that.