PUSH for Justice

Sasha Tycko

“Stop the shooting!” Fists shoot into the air as the crowd roars its response. Stop the shooting. “Stop the killing!” Stop the killing. Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. is speaking at the national headquarters for his Rainbow/PUSH coalition, blocks from President Obama’s Hyde Park home.

He is orating as part of the weekly Saturday Morning Forum, billed as a “unique blend of political rally, entertainment, information sharing, and church service.” On this particular Saturday, Jackson is joined by members of Occupy Chicago for a panel on issues of social and economic justice. This event is also the last stop of the PUSH for Excellence HBCU tour, and dozens of high school students in bright yellow t-shirts arrive in a charter bus.

The program begins with organ music and dancing, and the crowd’s energy transitions seamlessly into political fervor. First up is the call to build a new airport in the south suburbs, a plan pushed in Congress by Jackson’s son. Jackson proposes an “occupation” of the airport site, and claims that a new airport would reduce traffic at Midway and O’Hare. He emphasizes that the airport would create 17,000 new jobs.

“Say ‘jobs’!” Jobs. “Say ‘jobs’ again!” Jobs!

The crowd erupts when Jackson brings to the stage the family of Howard Morgan, the former Chicago cop who was shot 28 times by white officers, survived, and was then sentenced to 40 years in prison. Tavis Grant, National Field Director of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, says Morgan is “still innocent,” and unveils a plan to start a legal defense fund for the Morgan family. “We’re not going to be quiet and let our people get shot down in the streets,” says Grant. With Easter in mind, Jackson declares, “You don’t have to be guilty to be crucified.”

“Too much killing!” Too much killing! “Stop the killing!” Stop the killing!

The discussion turns to more specific issues when the panel begins. Andy Manos of Occupy Chicago’s Labor Committee criticizes mounting student loan debts and tuition hikes–as an adjunct professor at DePaul University, Manos totaled the amount of student debt in just one of his classes at $650,000.

Jackson condemns Chicago public schools, mapping the trajectory for a suspended student from suspension, to expulsion, to jail, to the graveyard.

Ken Richardson of Occupy for Prisoners joins in, discussing the injustice of mass incarceration. “We want to stop the system that incarcerates people in the first place,” says Richardson, calling the status quo, “the new Jim Crow.”  Stripped of voting rights, he maintains, prisoners become “second-class citizens.” Jackson claims that while most users and sellers of drugs are white, the people sitting in jail are black.

The program concludes with singing and prayer. The groups split ways, and Occupy heads downtown for the Chicago Spring. The ever-active Jackson collects donations, asking people to “move quickly” so that he can make it to the funeral of the late Rev. Addie Wyatt.