BARABOO, WISCONSIN -- Decrying the excesses of big banks and Wall Street speculators, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told thousands of cheering progressives at a county fairgrounds in rural Wisconsin Saturday that: “There is a contest for the soul of America.
Cheered on by the crowd that had gathered for Fighting Bob Fest, the annual progressive chautauqua on the Sauk County Fairgrounds in this central Wisconsin community, the civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate declared that America would have to choose between being of a country where a tiny elite controls the vast majority of wealth or one where the great mass of Americans have a chance to survive and thrive.
“We cannot subsidize bankers and leave people homeless on the streets of America,” Jackson said. “It’s time for a change!”
“We will fight back!” chanted the crowd, which packed the grandstand and field for one of the largest Bob Fest gatherings in the nine-year history of the event.
For Democratic strategists who worry about an "enthusiasm gap" in this year's mid-term election season, Jackson offered the antedote. His adamant address had thousands of people -- many of them from rural and smalltown Wisconsin -- on their feet and cheering. And this year's Fighting Bob Fest drew more than twice as many people as a highly publicized and expensively promoted "Tea Party" event -- which featured television personalies, "Joe the Plumber" and Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville -- held the same day in Racine, Wisconsin.
The enthusiastic response for Jackson’s populist speech offered a reminder that there is no enthusiasm gap. There's a message gap.
When the message is muscular, the enthusiasm is there.
Jackson wasn't the only one drawing cheers on a day that heard rousing speeches from former Texas Secretary of Agriculture Jim Hightower, Congressman David Obey, Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and other prominent speakers from Wisconsin and across the nation.
A Saturday that began with overcast skies and scattered rain showers ended with bright sunshine and a rollicking, old-school rallying of the progressive faithful in the tradition of Robert M. La Follette, the Wisconsin governor, senator and 1924 presidential candidate for whom the festival is named.
Jackson, who was honored with a lifetime achievement award by festival organizers, hailed the progressive movement led by La Follette, which campaigned for economic and social justice at home while opposing empire building abroad.
Sounding anti-war themes that were very much in the La Follette tradition, Jackson called for bringing U.S. troops home and reallocating resources from fighting wars abroad to fighting unemployment at home.
“We want for America what we provide for Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Jackson. “We want jobs for Chicago… jobs for Milwaukee… jobs for Sauk County.”
Sounding economic justice themes that repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet, Jackson warned that: “We’ve globalized capital without globalizing human rights, without globalizing workers’ rights, women’s rights, children’s rights. Let’s democratize our economy!