Friday, October 17, 2008

Meeting Jesse Jackson on the South Side of Chicago

When That Evenin' Sun Goes Down
That's when you'll find me hangin' around.
I said the night life -- it ain't a good life,
But it's my life.

Those are words from a blues song by B.B. King. I used to hang out on the South Side of Chicago -- I had aspirations to be some kind of cool guy, or maybe I could ride in B.B. King's Cadillac, or maybe I could smoke some reefer with Paul Butterfield out in the back of the club. Or hold the door open for Dinah Washington. I used to have a picture of Nancy Wilson on my wall. And Lou Rawls records.

I used to listen to Daddio Dayley's Modern Jazz Patio -- "for those who live it, love it, for those who make a living of it." Daddio Dayley came on in the middle of the day from an under-powered AM station, but he played all the best -- Arthur Prysock, Billy Ekstein, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown and so many others that I learned about.

I was cool, I was gonna have roots, know people, be on the street, on 63rd Street, Cottage Grove, Stoney Island, and places like that.

I saw Louis Farrakhan and the Black Muslims and their clean bow ties selling their newspapers. I saw Blackstone Rangers. They were a gang, everybody was scared of them. I saw plain clothes Chicago police detectives park their car anywhere they wanted to. They were the toughest men I have ever seen in my life -- they didn't strut, they just stood there, trench coat like Colombo, cop shoes.

I wasn't that stupid. I kept my eyes open. I kept moving if I needed to. I learned to trust my instincts, if things didn't feel right. People tell lies, they act friendly, but they're playin' you.

I ate sweet potato pie at the Mount Olive Baptist Church at the Sunday dinner, after all that fried chicken and all that gospel music.

In 1966 I associated with Jesse Jackson on the South Side. He was not known by anyone at that time, just getting started. He worked out of the basement of the Mount Olive Baptist Church. We did something called "community organizing." Have you ever heard of that?

It was called Operation Breadbasket and it was about getting jobs for people in the neighborhood -- all the black people lived in that neighborhood, but it was more about where they lived than it was about race.

So, we targeted the Pepsi Cola Company. We said to Pepsi Cola, "You sell lots of Pepsi around here, but you don't hire any of us to drive your trucks or to work in your bottling plants."

Jesse Jackson did the talking. He was only 25 years old in 1966, and just making a name for himself.

"We want jobs for our people, or you're not going to sell any Pepsi products in our neighborhood," he said.

Pepsi didn't listen and wouldn't deal. So our task, at Operation Breadbasket, was to organize all the little grocery stores on the South Side of Chicago ( they only had the big supermarkets in the suburbs ) -- go to each one of those little grocery stores and convince the owners to take the Pepsi products off the shelf, and put up a "Boycott Pepsi" sign.

Everybody knows that black people prefer Pepsi over Coke, because Pepsi tastes better, but they wanted to get those good jobs driving the Pepsi trucks.

So, the boycott worked. Pretty soon, after a few weeks, Pepsi couldn't sell a bottle of soda anywhere, and they caved, and began to talk to Jesse Jackson, and they promised some jobs for people in the neighborhood.

I liked that kind of economic muscle. It wasn't like, "Oh, we're poor people and you have to give us jobs." No, it was much more real. It was, "We drink Pepsi every day. You're making money off of us, so you have to give us jobs, or we just won't drink anymore Pepsi." That's real. And it worked.

Funny how you remember things like this years later. It kind of blows my mind to think about it now that another man, who did some "community organizing" on the South Side of Chicago, is on the verge of becoming President of the United States.

Barack Obama -- I expect he learned a lot from Jesse Jackson, and Jeremiah Wright, and a host of very colorful characters that one can easily encounter on the South Side, a neighborhood that might seem exotic to the likes of Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin -- I have not heaped abuse on her like others have done, but I will continue to make fair comments. Other says that Palin has no foreign policy experience. But I would say different. I would say that you don't need experience in foreign travel to be a good President. But what you DO need, is to KNOW your own country. If you really know America, then you can deal with foreign leaders.

And how can you ever know America, if you have never been to America's most vibrant and vital neighborhood -- the South Side of Chicago?

Today, in St. Louis, Barack Obama drew a crowd of over 100,000 people. That's amazing.

No comments: