Cambridge Union Society,
University of Cambridge

Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
December 2, 2013

To the professors, students, the Cambridge Union family – Joanna, Imogen, Harry - I’m glad to return again to share with you observations about our world of which there is such swift transition. 

A world made smaller by science and technology, as distance has been dwarfed by speed and the internet.

There are no more foreigners.

So as the world pendulum swings between the fear of war and the hope for peace, tonight let’s engage in a call to close the gaps and heal the wounds in our quest for global justice and peace.

Even nations – the U.S. and UK – with the most civil political order, are scarred by racism and gender inequality, poverty and violence.   These two great nations have an identity conflict between their real life values, as they are exhibited in daily practices and priorities; and their high principles of democracy that affirms the somebody-ness, the worth of every individual.

In real life, we are called to a diligent work ethic.   Effort and excellence mean so much.  But inheritance, access and blood lines – formal and informal - mean even more.  This is inconsistent with a true merit system.

Democracy should affirm fairness, an even playing field, one set of rules, and transparency.

I was born in 1941 in the middle of WWII – Nazi fascism in Germany and Italy were driving forces in the world.  For too long they had been tolerated by democracies.   By the time we stopped the fascist rein of terror, 60 million people were killed – six million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust, 10 million Russians, 4 million Chinese in Europe, 3- 400,000 each in the US and UK.

By the time I first went to jail in 1960 for trying to use the public library with my classmates in Greenville, South Carolina, America and much of the world was still under laws of racial segregation, apartheid and colonialism and occupation.

My father in WWII had to sit behind Nazi prisoners of war on American military bases, as the American flag flew gently in the breeze.   Blacks were placed behind the Nazis – the military and ideological enemy, but at least they were white.

By race, class or caste…we were not free, but we are condemned and punished because of skin color.

Racism presumed that one group was superior, the other inferior. 

The dominant group would have the first and best of all there is.  The oppressed group got the last, and the least.

Racism is unscientific.   It is emotionally de-stabilizing and politically divisive.   Racism is economically exploitative.  It creates illusions for one group, and delusions for the other.   It is theologically unsound, and theologically a sin.   Racism is ungodly.  It is a shaky, corrosive foundation on which to build a house … Or a nation.

The theory has been largely discredited today.   But the after shocks of that earthquake – the practices and policies of unfairness – continue, and threaten to engulf the whole human family.

Today we are free-er, but less equal. 

The laws of freedom are enforced.   Denial of freedom is thought to be distasteful.   But the laws of equality are not as accepted or enforced.  Many of our freedom allies in our quest for human rights, are NOT our equality allies.

In the quest for equality, in the U.S. we find banks too big to fail or prosecute.  From the ravages and waste of the big banks – JP Morgan Chase, the colossal giant just had to settle a $14 billion for its misdeeds and schemes in sub-prime, predatory lending – which led to the loss of millions of homes to foreclosures, devastation of families, schools and businesses.

$14 billion in fines, but not one executive or board director prosecuted – too big to go to jail, while our youth languish in jails for crack and marijuana possession.

The horizontal gaps of separation have been displaced by the political-economic gaps of disparity.

Freedom from indignities, and public degradation – whites only public facilities – is only the outer layer of humiliation and barbarism.

The systems of exploitation are bone deep, not merely skin deep.   Even when we removed the outer layer of segregation, the inner layer of domination, attitudes and values remain.

I’m often asked, “Am I happy about our progress?”  

I’m delighted with the small measure of progress we’ve made through our civil rights struggle – but I’m disappointed at the forces of resistance to change, forces that block progress and do not see the value of evening the playing field.

It’s hard to appreciate how deep this raging river of injustice is, until you engage in the quest for justice.

I’m disappointed at the amount of time and risk we had to take for quite simple justice and fairness - using toilets, going to theatres and libraries.   To win the right to vote.

I’m also clear that we have fathoms deeper and many years to go to achieve a more perfect union.

We continue to face systems of exploitation, economic and education advantage, where a privileged few continue to be protected by laws, inheritance and perpetuity.

The U.S. and Britain boast of freedom and democracy; they self-describe themselves as the “arch angels” of democracy.

But patterns of exclusion stand as glaring contradictions to such a claim. Eight million families and over 40 million Americans live in poverty; fourteen million children under 18 are in poverty.  Today nearly 50 million people were food insecure – they don’t have enough to eat, including 17 million children.  

We’ve built a jails for profit, privatized prison industrial complex that demand 90% occupancy.   The Correction Corporation of America which operates prisons, is traded on the stock exchange.  Two private equity firms make a $1.5 billion a year, profiting from collect calls inmates make from prison.

There is a growth of forced prison labor – prisoners getting 50-80 cents and hour, making everything from lingerie to military outfits.

Some are languishing in jail 3-5 years waiting for trial – because they are too poor to make bail and get adequate representation.  Jail becomes a homeless shelter, a ward for the mentally and emotionally afflicted.

The disparities in access to jobs, health and education, targeted home foreclosures - - - abound in the U.S.

There are 3 million Blacks and Ethnic Minorities in the UK today, growing to some 8 million in the next decade.  22% are living in poverty.  In large degree, they are marginalized and, like the U.S., face structural inequalities in criminal justice, education, employment, health care – nearly every social, economic, political and educational category in the life of Britain.  

In 2008/09, 13½ million people in the UK were living in households below the low-income threshold, around a fifth (22%) of the population; some 5 million people are unemployed, a number that has been rising over the past decade.

And over the last decade, the poorest tenth of the population have, on average, seen a fall in their real incomes; while the richest tenth of the population have seen much bigger proportional rises in their incomes than any other group. 

Wealth Gaps.  Employment Gaps.  Education Gaps.

Look no further than the walls within these elite universities.

David Lammy MP and the Guardian newspaper unveiled a host of data showing that Oxford's social profile is 89% upper and middle class while the Cambridge student body is 87.6% drawn from the top three socio-economic groups.

Even in 2013, very few Black students from Britain are accepted and attend Oxbridge colleges.  Twenty-one Oxbridge colleges took no black students last year.  In 2009, of Oxford's 2,653 new undergraduates, just six "black Caribbean" candidate from the UK – out of 35 who applied – was accepted for study at Oxford. 

More than 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years.

And it is still the graduates from these elite universities that go on to become PM’s, MP’s and business leaders, that propel these race gaps in education, into the political and economic arenas.

We live in a different world today that will reject these disparities.   There is a growing insult level among the locked out and the rejected. 

These gaps create tensions that lead to wars and unfortunately, sometimes to terrorism.

The former colonized people from Africa, the Caribbean, are now Britain’s newest immigrants, and newest citizens with their cultures, languages – and bring their hopes, dreams and interests to the UK.

How to people and nations adapt and adjust? 

In America, we had to organize to have Congress pass laws to outlaw racial discrimination – to alter behaviour and ultimately change attitudes.

The fears built into racial separation were unfounded.  That is why walls must come down and bridges must be built.  

If you put two seeds in the ground of equal strength – and put a wall between them, one will grow taller with multiples of fruit.   The other will be stunted.  But the seed does not determine their height, but by the wall that denies access to sunlight.  It’s called photosynthesis.

When walls come down, everybody can grow and healing takes place.

How should people and nations adapt and adjust? 

With acceptance and inclusion, where we all become more secure and better off; 

Not by pushing off and away, reconstructing barriers of exclusion….blaming immigrants for the global and European economic and job crisis – or seeking to ban immigration to Britain and inflaming racial, religious and ethnic tensions.

Your generation now relate to Britain’s new immigrants as neighbors, classmates, business partners, MP’s and voting partners.   As their population grows, so too will their voting and political power, and their demand for equality and a level playing field.

So forging a new UK – one that is inclusive and sets a level playing field for all of its people - brings forth new challenges and opportunities.  As the UK and Europe seek to re-emerge and restore their economies shattered by the global banking crisis – it should not be at the expense of Britain’s Black and Ethnic Minority, or immigrant population. 

Working with our allies in Europe – we use the term  Equanomics – coined by our British Rainbow PUSH affiliate, Equanomics UK -  which is a fusion of EQUALITY AND ECONOMICS –

An approach is that focuses on race and economic equality for the broad masses of people.  Where social inclusion is predicated on Economic inclusion.  Where social justice is dependent on economic justice.


Today we are caught in a global economic crisis.  We have globalized capital, but we have not globalized human rights.  We have not globalized workers rights.  We have not globalized rights for workers and women, rights for children, environmental security.

Remember:  when President Bush and Prime Minister Blair got together a few years ago to decide to invade Iraq, that was a minority meeting.  When the big financial institution heads get together in New York or London, that’s a minority meeting, too.

The U.S. & the U.K. together represent only 5% of the world, one out of every 20 people.  Yet as all of you know, half the world lives in Asia, with almost half of them in China.

A billion people live in India, next door to Pakistan—and both are armed with weapons of mass destruction.

One-eighth of the world lives in Africa, 1/4 of them in Nigeria, where AIDS, hunger, disease, and now global warming are devastating the continent.   But Africa is also where seven of the ten fastest growing economics reside.

And then there is Morocco – once the gateway to the Arab world and Africa, to the Arab world and Europe, to the Atlantic Ocean – a bustling trading port and an expanding democracy.

We must see Africa anew.

Too many Americans do not realize—and perhaps too many Europeans as well do not yet realize—that most people in the world are black, brown, yellow, young, female, non-Christian, and don’t speak English.

And the formerly colonized peoples are now moving away from the monochrome, all “one-ethnic-group” societies.  This is Europe’s big challenge for the future, and the U.K.’s big challenge, to build a new nation, to choose inclusion. 

We must unlearn earlier lessons we learned too well. We learned how to survive apart.  We must now learn a new lesson—how to live and prosper together, choosing inclusion which leads to growth.  

A comprehensive policy of democracy and inclusion is the roadmap to a new England, to serve the emerging, diverse world.

A new world

For some time now, there has been a prevailing arrogance in the approach to world affairs.

In Iraq:  “we” rushed to war on false intelligence seeking regime change; “we” lost money, honor and lives.

In Afghanistan:  thousands of civilians, and “we” callously call it collateral damage.  There is a reticence and reluctance to apologize. The U.S. is now seeking a long-term military presence in Afghanistan, while President Karzai complains that the U.S. is not honoring the independence and integrity of the nation.

IN Pakistan:  Drone strikes on a scale never seen before.

In Libya: Destroying Qaddafi and toppling his regime – supposedly to spread democracy, but leaving the nation in shambles.  Today, the same policies are being played out in Syria.

But the new Iran factor serendipitously has altered the world balance, and reversed the engine of war and destabilization.

If the Iranian initiative stays on course, the infrastructure of fear and hate that justifies the military industrial complex will free up scientists to use their skills for scientific and human development and healing, not for weapons of mass destruction.

The Prophet Isaiah admonished us to beat our swords into plowshares, and turn our Swords into pruning hooks.  To turn our weapons of mass destruction and killing, into systems of development and healing.

1/8 of the human race with vast advantages in education, capital, and inheritance must be educated to relate meaningfully to the 7/8.

Radical, exclusive education, based upon one model of academic achievement prepares one to rule, not to participate equally and reciprocally. Education should enlighten our capacity to participate, cooperate and govern, not to rule.

Our education must have depth, breadth and height.   We must have a global perspective, and see the world through a door, not through a keyhole.

Our horizontal breadth and capacity must prepare us to reach out, just as our vertical development allows us to pursue our curiosity and our dreams.

         Ironically, in the athletic world, the rules of engagement lend themselves to justice.  I marvel at soccer and football games that require such a high level of cognitive skill and emotional discipline.   Whether the team is in England playing a team from Africa or South America, the games are so exciting and competitive, and draw millions of fans across the globe.

When Chelsea plays Manchester United, the scores may be tight, emotions are intense, but we live with the outcome of the game because …

the playing field is even, the rules are public, the goals are clear, the referees are fair and the score is transparent. 

These same principles must be applied to our educational, social, economic and political life.

There are too many walls that retain inferior/superior dynamic.  Our world today is hounded by racism, poverty and war.

Remedies like affirmative action or as its called positive discrimination, are rejected.

The ultimate affirmative action plan, the post WWII Marshall Plan, on the other hand, was accepted as necessary for the world.   Targeted, long term, low interest loans to rebuild Europe.

In the end, the key to peace, besides having a good mind, and a will to harmony, is character.

We need A Global war on poverty

 Nearly half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day).  80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day.  Over a billion children worldwide are living in poverty. 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.  More than 1 billion people lack adequate access to clean drinking water.

Jesus measured character by how we treat the least of these.  How we treat each other.

In my faith at its best, how the least of these and those left behind, is the measure of character.

The parable of the lost sheep must be retrieved.   Character is measured by retrieving the lost sheep.

In the parable of The Good Samaritan, we learned to cross racial lines, religious lines, and class lines. 

In defining character, Jesus sought to answer the question, who is my neighbor?

You here at Cambridge, you must DREAM.

Dream that every child can achieve based on ability, not just money and inheritance.

Dream that they have access to the best education.

Dream that every child will have drinkable water and food for the body, education for the mind, art for the spirit.

We must dream of a world without war.   Dream of peace, racial equality and economic justice.

Dream of multi racial, multi ethnic, multi class, classmates where you grow and learn together, live together to make a better world together.

You have that task and the opportunity to define and create this world.

Keep Hope Alive