Arkansas is a land that has "rich soil but poor people," according to a man many call the face of the civil rights movement for the past 40 years.
Jesse Jackson spoke about the poverty level in Arkansas and other Southern states during his lecture at Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas Thursday night. Jackson was part of the Log Cabin Democrat Lecture Series.
"This South is nothing like the old South," Jackson said, many times asking the audience to repeat his refrains as if they were in church. "That South is behind us, but we have much more to do to learn to live together than to just survive apart."
Jackson, who spoke for nearly an hour before opening up the session for questions, spoke about the way to change people’s paths, especially in the delta region. When one person asked if too much was focused on foreign policy by those in power, Jackson pointed the finger back at those who give certain people power.
"It’s not foreign policy’s fault," he said. "There are too many people voting against their own interests. They need to vote for hopes and not for fears."
The right and ability to vote was a constant refrain from a man who helped many minorities gain the right to vote in the 1960s. When the largest cheers erupted over the staggering amount of student loan debt in the United States, Jackson joked that those in the audience who have student loan debt and have not registered to vote should have their debt doubled.
Jackson also answered a question about the current Occupy movements by saying they needed to be embraced because money should always be linked to productivity. "The 1 percent has been protected, and there is too much concentrated wealth," he said. "We bailed out the banks, but the banks did not bail out the people."
In answering a question about the Tea Party, Jackson was blunt.
"This is not the same Tea Party as in Boston," he said. "They mask a want for segregation in state sovereignty. If it were just about the economy, they would be applauding leaving Iraq and creating new jobs."
In comparing our society to a football game between Arkansas and Alabama, he talked about a "level playing field" that is needed.
"In the game, you choose uniform color over skin color," he said. "The winner has grace, and the loser has dignity. The rules are clear, the referees are fair, and everyone can live with the outcome. This is because everyone is on a level playing field."
Jackson said America lives in too much fear and is too arrogant, especially when it comes to dealing with the nation's poor.
"An unnecessary war in Iraq cost $3 trillion," he said. "$1 trillion of that could wipe out every state's debt."
When asked about his colleague, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jackson said that King would have enjoyed the night like this one when people of different colors, genders and nationalities could sit in a lecture series and discuss the future.
"Dr. King pulled down the cotton curtain, and because of that, the sun has shone on everyone, and we are allowed to grow," he said. "But we need to grow together."