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JESSE JACKSON: Don't Compare Obama's Speech to MLK's 'Dream'

Jesse L. Jackson Sr., Special to The Informer | 8/26/2013, 9 p.m.
Much of the press is speculating about whether the president can reach the "King standard." Can he deliver an address ...
President Obama (Courtesy of whitehouse.gov)

So Johnson argued that next and the “more profound stage of the battle for civil rights” is not just “equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and equality as a result.” Johnson then detailed the structural inequalities still facing African-Americans — unequal unemployment, incomes, rates of poverty, infant mortality, and more. And he laid out the strategy of his war on poverty to address this crisis. He announced his intention to call a White House conference to address the theme of “To Fulfill These Rights.”

Johnson understood how difficult this was. He launched his war on poverty in Appalachia, choosing to “whiten” the face of poverty, to reflect the reality that more poor people were white than black. He drove hard to push legislation and appropriations and executive action. The minimum wage reached levels not seen in comparable dollars since. Infant mortality and poverty declined. Real progress was made.

But as Dr. King warned, the war on poverty was lost to the war in Vietnam that robbed resources, attention and political energy. When he was assassinated, Dr. King was planning another march on Washington — a Poor People's Campaign, to bring the impoverished from across the races and the regions to camp in the nation’s capital and to call on our elected leaders once more to act.

So the question for President Obama isn’t whether he can match the poetry of Dr. King’s call. It is whether he can match the energy of President Johnson’s response. Will he call revive the Civil Rights Commission? Will he announce steps to guard the right to vote now under assault from North Carolina to Texas? Will he call on Congress for appropriations to ensure every child has access to a high quality public education? Will he move more aggressively to curb discriminatory sentences? Will he drive an increase in the minimum wage, a strengthening of our laws protecting workers and their right to organize, the move for comprehensive immigration reform?

We will listen to what he says. But as president, he will be measured by the hard prose of his actions, not the poetry of his words. We will be looking for what he does, not simply what he says.

Keep up with Rev. Jackson and the work of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at www.rainbowpush.org.