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 -
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
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.
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 Project21@nationalcenter.org.
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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