Project 21 New Visions

 

Reverend Al's Campaign: When Sequels Go Bad


by Kimberley Jane Wilson

 


With few exceptions, sequels are never as good as the original. That's true in movies, books and - as Al Sharpton shows us - in politics.

When Sharpton first began running for president, no political commentator considered him a serious contender. Many thought Sharpton was really trying to be seen as the second coming of Jesse Jackson, and this was his bid to emerge as the most powerful civil rights figure in America.

It didn't work out that way, and now the Sharpton campaign is over and saddled with $600,000 in debt.

When Jesse Jackson ran in 1988, he won nine states and had over 1,200 delegates. "Rev," as Sharpton's staffers affectionately call him, won no states and garnered a measly 26 delegates. In 1988, there was no way Democrats could ignore Jesse Jackson, and there was no way they could refuse him an opportunity to speak at their convention. Jackson's speech is still considered to be one of the greatest ever given at a political convention. Al Sharpton will be lucky if he gets a free ticket to the convention so he can watch from the stands.

It had its amusing moments, but the Sharpton campaign never managed to ignite the public's imagination. If you went anywhere in the black community in the last few months, it seemed as if no one was talking about Sharpton's campaign other than to make a caustic joke. He was expected to do well in the South, the quirky Washington, D.C. primary and - of course - in his own backyard of New York. He failed, however, in all three places. He cast out his nets, and black voters apparently threw them right back.

Maybe it was because, to many people who lived through the 80s and 90s, hearing Sharpton's name still brings up memories of the Crown Heights ugliness, the Tawana Brawley incident and the eight innocent people who died in the Freddy's Fashion Mart fire. Others probably still can't get the image of his horrible old jogging suits or his old Samson-meets-James Brown pompadour hairstyle out of their minds. At best, they saw him as that guy who's a big deal in New York City - but that's all.

Al Sharpton said his campaign was about "identity," that he wanted "to slap the donkey" (the Democrats) and that he wasn't running for "king of the ghetto." On his website, it says he ran to keep the "dream alive," but it never said much in the way of concrete details. His political platform was extremely vague, and it seems the whole thing was nothing more than an ego trip.

In an interview with The New York Daily News, Sharpton indicated he's satisfied with how things worked out because he' s now more nationally known and is planning to host a syndicated radio and TV talk show. That's just great for him. In a way - but not the way he would probably appreciate - it's also great for black America.

Times have changed, as have the needs of black America. Sharpton's pitiful showing in the presidential race should put our so-called, and mostly self-appointed, black leaders on notice: Ladies and gentlemen, we demand more of you than a few dramatic speeches in church pulpits. We aren't voting for you just because you are black.

Although some of us still need to work on breaking our mental shackles, physical slavery is dead and so is Jim Crow. We don't need an imitation Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - or a very poor man's Jesse Jackson - to negotiate with whites on our behalf.

"Rev" might not agree, but that's something we can all celebrate.


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Kimberley Jane Wilson is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and a freelance writer in Northern Virginia. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published June 2004 by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.


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