"Double economic hemorrhaging" was the phrase echoing off the Capitol Hill chambers last night. Not quite what you would expect of a sedate crowd ranging from teen-agers in flowing summer dresses and middle-aged men in blue serge suits.
But quite the proper tone when the guest of honor was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the architect of Top Ten social slogans, and the day of his appearance coincided with the largest increase in the unemployment rate in five years.
"What it means to many of us is the inability to retain a grip on life . . . beyond this federal plantation there is a lot of agony in the land tonight," said Jackson, referring to the mythical view of the capital city as recession-proof.
"Many of us have lost our sense of righteous indignation and our sense of profound dissatisfaction . . . We have been victimized by diversionary activities. We are talking about summer games [the Moscow Olympics] instead of summer jobs." There were a few amens.
Jackson appeared at an evening social program designed to highlight some of the achievements of the school programs of Jackson's Operation PUSH, programs that have received some criticism for lack of follow-through, and to rally support for a May 17 march against unemployment, a project that has drawn some skepticism.
The reality of yesterday's new unemployment figures, said several guests, will convert the skeptics to the necessity of mass demonstration. "That translates to 500,000 jobs lost in one month," said William Lacy, the labor leader. "If folks are not concious that the current economic policy is destructive, then they are endorsing it anyway by standing away from the march."
Milling around the baked beans, barbecued chicken and shrimp salad were many of the ministers who compose the nucleus of PUSH's local chapters and other admirers of Jackson. "I support everything he does. Youth unemployment, excellence in schools, the Middle East," said former senator James Abourezk. Other guests included Mary Berry, a Howard University professor and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Eddie Williams, president of the Joint Center on Political Studies; Wiley Branton, dean of the Howard University Law School; attorneys Samuel Jackson and George Haley; D.C. City Councilwoman Betty Anne Kane; and school board member Barbara Lett Simmons.
And the march seemed to be gaining some momentum. One group decided to work on public service announcements for the radio right there. Mona Bailey of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority was waiting for the opportunity to give Jackson a $550 check she had raised from a luncheon of sorority women in Anchorage, Alaska.
Several times during the evening the "speechifying," as one guest described it, and singing, by Pearl Williams Jones and others, made the Caucus Room of the Cannon Office Building resound like a church hall. Irvin Horne, a University of Maryland student fired up the crowd with a speech on delinquency, saying it's a 'label' adults should share.
Jackson spoke of the added burdens a recession brings to black Americans and the strategy of withholding an endorsement from presidential candidates until their political platforms are revealed.
"We are going to march from the White House," said Jackson, as the 200 guests applauded. "We know whose house the decisions are in the hands of. 2We can decide who stays in the White House and who has to retire."