Massive job layoffs and a recession threaten to pit out-of-work whites, women, Hispanics and blacks against one another in a "great playoff" for a piece of a shrinking economic pie, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said during an interview yesterday.
In Washington preparing for a jobs march on Saturday, Jackson urged the reformation of traditional civil rights coalitions, including women's groups and labor unions, who have a common need for a stimulated economy.
"As the job market shrinks, as economic strangulation forces more blacks, browns and women to try to find work, either we will fight together to expand the economy or we will fight each other over a shrinking economy," said Jackson, founder of the self-help organization, Operation PUSH.
Jackson is scheduled to lead an estimated 25,000 marchers on a "jobs pilgrimage" from the White House to the Capitol to dramatize the plight of the nation's unemployed.
The march, the first civil rights processional of its kind in several years, has been endorsed by numerous national groups and individuals -- including the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers, the NAACP the Hispanic group, LaRaza, and four members of the D.C. City Council, they are John Bay, Wilhelmina Rolark, Hilda Mason and Nadine Winter.
The march comes at a time when there is growing concern among grassroots, community groups that, during these hard economic times, summer and full-time jobs, for the disadvantaged, food stamps, educational grants and health care have been given low priority by government officials.
"We must make blacks, the poor, the unemployed more visible again so when people sit in conference committees they will know they are talking about more than statistics," Jackson said.
Last week, several hundred youths from Southeast Washington marched along Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Avenue SE carrying signs and chanting "A people united will never be divided." The march was a test run to determine how much support Jackson could expect from the youth of Southeast.
"It was an excellent turnout," said Sandy Rivers, of Southeast House, a community counseling service for teen-agers. "Based on our canvassing, we expect 1,000 Southeast youth to join in the march on Saturday."
Jackson said the purpose of the march would be to "create a new climate" on Capitol Hill. "There has been a definite shift towards irrational conservatism and a sense of economic panic," he said.
The march is scheduled to begin with an assembly at the northwest quadrant of the Ellipse behind the White House at 9 a.m. Those marching from Southeast are expected to gather at Anacostia Park, located at 22nd and Fairlawn streets, SE, just off Pennsylvania Avenue.
The march from the White House begins at 10:30 a.m. up 17th Street NW to Pennsylvania Avenue. The group will stop for a brief prayer vigil in front of the White House then proceed north on 15th Street to E Street NW to bypass construction work in front of the District Building.
The marchers will turn onto Pennsylvania from 13th Street NW and head east to the Capitol for a rally.
Marchers from Southeast are expected to cross the Sousa Bridge and head west along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Deputy Police Chief Robert Klotz said yesterday that organizers of the march had met with law enforcement agencies about marching procedures. "We expect a peaceful demonstration," Klotz said.
According to organizers, marchers from 40 states are expected to arrive in Washington for the event.
"We're on the way and I'm feeling pretty good about it," Jackson said. "There is a risk factor involved in calling for 25,000 people to show up, but I don't feel that my relationship with our people will be irreparably damaged if I blow the bugle and they don't show up. What I'm about is people in motion. People standing still can't make anything happen. There is no hope in standing still. When you do that, you go backwards."