In remarks Thursday at the University of Virginia, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged young people to become more civically engaged.
Speaking to a large audience in Old Cabell Hall to kick off his “Healing and Rebuilding” tour, Jackson, 75, said students must press Virginia’s General Assembly to enact automatic voter registration when people reach the legal voting age of 18.
“You must register to vote today. We marched too much, bled too much and died too young,” he said, referencing the United States’ history of slavery and the civil rights movement. “With your vote, you have the power to fight for the equal rights for men and women.”
Jackson said the Virginia General Assembly should follow the example of Illinois, which recently passed legislation that requires the automatic registration of 18-year-olds.
The longtime civil rights activist asked those who were not registered to vote in Charlottesville to stand. “You may have come from Florida or Mississippi, but you have the right to vote in Charlottesville,” he said.
“If you live in Charlottesville, but are not registered to vote here, come on down,” he said. “Come on the stage.”
One new Charlottesville voter is Janee Murray, from Pasadena, Maryland. Why did she choose to register in Charlottesville? “I guess it was a compelling argument,” she said. “Due to recent events, it just seems like the right time.”
Closing his official remarks, Jackson, in his rhyming fashion, said “Remember, in November! Love you, guys!”
In November, Virginians will elect a new governor; Republican Ed Gillespie is squaring off against the Democratic nominee, current Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
Jackson was a guest of UVA’s Lambda Zeta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, which was founded at Howard University in 1911, making it the first international fraternal organization to be founded on the campus of a historically black college. Jackson himself is a member of Omega Psi Phi.
Miles Braxton, the head of UVA’s chapter, said UVA alumnus Gary Flowers, also an Omega Psi Phi brother and a religious radio personality in Richmond, was instrumental in bringing Jackson back to UVA.
“After proposing the event to Flowers and in light of the white supremacy rallies of Aug. 11th and 12th, Rev. Jackson was elated to kick off his Healing and Rebuilding Tour in Charlottesville,” Braxton said. “It doesn’t hurt that Rev. Jackson is also a man of Omega Psi Phi and was very willing to allow us to host the event.”
Flowers, who is coordinating Jackson’s tour, graduated from the College of Arts & Sciences in 1985. He said Jackson, the leader of the Rainbow Push Coalition, holder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a two-time candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, will take his message to other universities around Virginia next week. Stops are slated to include Virginia State University, Norfolk State University, Hampton University and the University of Richmond.
Braxton said it was important that Jackson address UVA’s student body.
“These are the future policymakers and -amenders of the country,” he said. “When policy change, like automatic voter registration, is presented to a young body of active, enthusiastic and progressive students, the conversation has more value because this generation of students will be responsible for changing policy in the country for the next 50 years. This is a chance for students to become active in an ongoing civil rights movement, to become a part of history.”