Hailing the era of “a new South,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson praised the region’s racial progress during a stop in the Myrtle Beach area Friday.
But the longtime civil rights activist also said many South Carolinians of all races still face challenges, particularly poverty and access to affordable healthcare.
“The state has become so prosperous for some people,” he said. “A million people, a million, in poverty is unbearable.”
“People have become too cynical to fight back. They think they don’t have power, but they do.”
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Jackson came to Kingston Plantation to address the S.C. Black Lawyers Association during the group’s annual conference. Afterwards, the 73-year-old Greenville native held a brief news conference to announce a campaign to add 100,000 individuals to the voter registration rolls by the spring.
“People have become too cynical to fight back,” he said. “They think they don’t have power, but they do.”
As part of this drive, Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition is opening offices in Columbia, Charleston and Greenville. He said the organization will connect with Palmetto State churches, schools and other groups, creating a presence in “virtually every county in the state.”
“It's important that we register everybody and get as many people out as possible. The voters need to know, in Horry County and in South Carolina at large, that they are paying federal tax dollars that we are sending to the federal government that the federal government is sending to other states because we have not accepted $11 billion in Medicaid expansion. It makes no sense.”
Jackson said he’ll also be talking about why state officials should accept the billions of dollars available through the Affordable Care Act’s expansion.
“We must join the Union,” he said.
As presidential candidates begin focusing on South Carolina’s “First in the South” presidential primary, Jackson hopes to have thousands of newly registered voters waiting to meet them.
“When we meet Democrats or Republicans, we want to hear them speak of affordable healthcare, affordable education and corporate justice,” he said. “We will have an agenda when they get here.”
Standing with Jackson on Friday was state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who supports the activist’s efforts.
“We as elected officials always need to hear from our constituents,” he said. “And not just the ones that come out to the vote, but the ones that feel like they don't make a difference. That's why it's important that we register everybody and get as many people out as possible. The voters need to know, in Horry County and in South Carolina at large, that they are paying federal tax dollars that we are sending to the federal government that the federal government is sending to other states because we have not accepted $11 billion in Medicaid expansion. It makes no sense.”
When discussing “a new South,” Jackson said the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for not only better race relations, but economic expansion, including major companies that have begun migrating South.
“Because the walls have come down, corporations are coming South,” he said. “People are coming South. But challenges are also coming South.”
As the Rainbow Push Coalition’s voter drive gets underway, Jackson said the group will be talking to specific segments of the population about the issues affecting them. For high school students, the topic will be scholarships. For college students, it’s lowering tuition. For workers, the focus will be raising the minimum wage.
“If everybody’s more engaged in the decision process, we can receive better results.”
Jackson also said he will be making a moral appeal to white Christian churches, saying they should support policies that help the poor and sick in addition to offering spiritual guidance.
“They also need medicine and food and employment,” he said of those in poverty.
The aims of Jackson’s voter drive and calls for unity resonated with DeShawn Mitchell, a 28-year-old Myrtle Beach lawyer.
“He made some very important points,” he said. “If everybody’s more engaged in the decision process, we can receive better results.”