EAST LANSING, Mich. The Rev. Jesse Jackson yesterday told about 600 Michigan State University students that America’s democracy was 37 years old, not 200-plus, and that “democracy as we know it did not begin in Philadelphia, where a bunch of white men wrote the laws.”
“These men’s wives were not allowed [to vote], these laws were made at a time when only white men had the right to vote,” Mr. Jackson said, noting that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the commencement of “true democracy.”
Speaking at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center, Mr. Jackson also used his platform at what organizers called a “Rally for Peace” to continue his criticism of Republican leaders, focusing on President Bush.
Any military action in Iraq, he said, at this point would violate U.N. and international law.
“But Mr. Bush says, ‘All right, I’ll go to the U.N.,’ then he tells them that unless you follow me, I’ll call off trade with your country,” said Mr. Jackson, a frequent critic of the administration.
“America is a great nation,” Mr. Jackson continued. “But we only represent 6 percent of the world. English is a great language but it is a minority language Jesus didn’t speak it. We are a great nation, but we have to be of service, we do not have to be superior.
“Most people on this globe are yellow, black or brown, non-Christian, female, young, poor and don’t speak English.”
Mr. Jackson made the stop here as he returned home to Chicago from a Friday rally in Washington to protest the Bush administration’s policy of investigating and detaining people. He accused Mr. Bush of wanting to “rule the world.”
The event here was poorly attended after student organizers predicted a crowd of 6,000. The group provided 2,000 free tickets to students and booked the arena area of the center, which has a capacity of 15,000.
Mr. Jackson was also targeted by a group of protesters, who said that Mr. Jackson is not the person on whom to spend university funds. About a half-dozen students stood outside the Breslin Center under a hand-carried sign that read “Jesse Jackson Protest Squad.”
“To bring Jesse Jackson, a left-wing extremist, to this campus to talk about peace, is not what we need,” said Craig Burgers, who chairs the Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. “He represents political corruption at its finest.”
He noted that Mr. Jackson’s speech was supposed to be about peace.
Mr. Jackson holds an honorary doctorate from the university, where he spoke at graduation commencement in 1988.
In his hourlong speech yesterday, Mr. Jackson also noted that the United States has a history of supporting political despots.
“We supported the shah of Iran, and we drove the Islamic revolution into being,” Mr. Jackson said. “They saw us as allies of oppression. We supported the Taliban we gave $6 million to the Taliban. The Taliban was our ally until September 11.”
Mr. Jackson also disparaged the nation’s economic order, using the university’s labor force as an example.
“You see them out there every day, planting flowers, keeping the place clean,” he said. “But they are the working poor. And the cost of a loaf of bread is the same for them as it is for anyone else.”
The labor force at Michigan State University is unionized, with all employees making above the minimum wage.