Published on Friday, December 15, 2000 in the Guardian of London
'This is not about Gore. This is about us'
Justices verdict stirs African Americans to renewed struggle
by Julian Borger in Washington
The Rev Jesse Jackson returned to one of the shrines of the civil rights movements yesterday to call for a continued struggle over the disputed election results, giving a pointed message that black American leaders had not reconciled themselves to a Bush presidency.
Mr Jackson held a rally outside the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, and told a crowd of African Americans that the irregularities in Florida showed that the civil rights struggle was far from over.
Despite Al Gore's concession, black activists have vowed to pursue through the courts widespread allegations of systematic disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida.
At a protest in Tallahassee on Wednesday, Mr Jackson condemned the supreme court ruling which gave finally gave victory to Mr Bush, and yesterday he continued to call the legitimacy of Mr Bush's win into question.
"When the supreme court issues a ruling calculated to deal a setback to the causes of civil rights in this country, the people respond," he said.
"The struggles have been long and painful, but in the end the cause of justice prevails.
"Our lesson today is that the fight that our parents and grandparents fought, a fight that many of us remember participating in, must never cease.
"In order for justice to prevail, the civil rights struggle must continue."
Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat congressman, said: "We may well be witnessing the greatest mass disenfranchisement of African Americans since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965" - the act which barred racially discriminating practices.
Evidence of voting rights violations will be given public hearings in Tallahassee in the second week of January, just weeks before George W Bush's inauguration, the US commission on civil rights announced.
The justice department is already conducting a preliminary investigation into claims that blacks were intimidated from voting by a heavy police presence around some polling booths, and that the names of thousands of minority voters were purged from the Florida electoral rolls in the run-up to the election.
Mr Bush made a huge effort to portray his version of the Republican party as an inclusive haven for all Americans, and filled the podium at the party convention in August with black speakers and entertainers.
But the change in image backfired. He got only 8% of black votes, less than almost any other Republican candidate in recent history.
"The way they had blacks parade across the stage at the convention was almost demeaning," Ronald Payne, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, said.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the trade unions conducted an unprecedented get-out-the-vote campaign in black districts, broadcasting advertisements portraying Mr Bush as a threat to black aspirations. One NAACP advertisement associated him with the savage racist murder of James Byrd in Texas two years ago. It blamed him for failing to bring in hate-crime legislation after the killing, and triggered allegations that the Democrats and their allies were using scare tactics to bring out the vote.
"Democrats realised that they could not get their base sufficiently enthused about Al Gore, so they demonised George Bush," Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said.
The black turnout was 51% in November, up from 48% four years earlier. In Florida, where black voters were angered by the abolition of affirmative action by Jeb Bush, the state governor and George W Bush's brother, the black share of the total vote rose from 10% to 15%, despite the problems on election day. Black Floridians preferred Mr Gore to Mr Bush 93% to 7%.
The Bush camp hopes to win the confidence of black Americans by an ethnicly diverse list of appointments. The retired general Colin Powell is almost certain to become the first black secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice the first national security advisor.
But those appointments were loudly signalled in the course of the campaign, clearly without making an indentation in the almost monolithic black support for Mr Gore.
The trauma of the election dispute and the controversy about the black vote has only deepened distrust. Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP president, who invited Mr Bush to address the organisation during the campaign, said yesterday that the president-elect had to go further in acknowledging the problems faced by black voters.
"Anything short of a collective condemnation will only foster a deeper belief in the minds of a lot of people that this nation does not care about them ... or how they feel," he said. "That leads to anarchy and division and mistrust."
Mr Mfume said the black campaign for an investigation into black disenfranchisement would not end just because Mr Gore had given up the struggle for a Florida recount.
"This is not about him. This is about us."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000