Former presidential candidate Reverend Jesse Jackson and The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel joined fellow progressive, moderator and Columbia professor Obery Hendricks on stage Thursday night in Miller Theater. Though the crowd was not very expansive, the subject matter was, encompassing all aspects of politics and religion as applied to the 2012 American presidential race. At times when Jackson, who was arrested at an Illinois factory and freed Wednesday, was trying to bring it all together he rambled, jumping from third parties to poverty to soldiers to Jesus in the span of two minutes.
Though the conversation covered a lot of ground during the two hour event, one theme that united all the speaker’s discussion of politics was the importance of a continuous progressive force in America. Jackson, a veteran of the civil rights movement from the 1960s on, said that it is “the conscientious objection of the third rail that moves us forward” rather than the mainstream political discourse.
Vanden Heuvel agreed, adding that social movements must elect and then push liberal leaders once on the political inside. She definitively supports President Barack Obama, but said “we are going to have to be at his back on November 6 and in the streets on November 7. “ Jackson echoed with his own experience, saying, “Martin Luther King Jr. supported Kennedy over Nixon, but we still had the March on Washington” in 1963.
While the speakers seemed to be coming from the same progressive position on issues of straight politics, the group showed more divergence on religion and its role in public life. Jackson is, in fact, still a Baptist minister in addition to his other political hats, and repeatedly referenced scripture in his remarks. Dr. Hendricks, whose most recent book is titled The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted, was also more expressive about religion than vanden Heuvel, who said, “I’m bad on spirituality” and shirked some religion focused questions.
While Jackson noted that religious leaders “sought to be transformative” in the struggle for civil rights, vanden Heuvel, who said she was raised Catholic until she was ten, pointed out the president’s inclusion of atheists in his inauguration address and said “athesists constitute a good percentage of people in the country.”
The question and answer session with the audience expanded the topics of discussion even further. Speakers answered inquiries on the role of the media, the influence of the black church, third parties, and the lack of youth activism with stories of their own experiences and hopes for the future.