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February 21, 2011

Jesse Jackson, 1996: "Between these mountains of the ball parks and the jails was once Campbell's Soup and Sears and Zenith... and stockyards."

Atlantic Yards Report

Once upon a time, before developers muddied up sports facility projects with mixed-use add-ons that might or might not deliver jobs and taxes and publicly-accessible open space, such projects could be seen plain.

Consider the Rev. Jesse Jackson's stirring 8/27/96 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The prepared text was amplified and amended in the remarks as delivered; Jackson, among other things, went off on stadiums and called--15 years before it became more mainstream--for investment in infrastructure.

As Michael Lewis explains in his book Losers: The Road To Everyplace but the White House, Jackson abandoned his notes and became the only speaker to fully engage the crowed, addressing the issue nearly everybody had ignored: economic justice.

Sports facilities as mountain tops

Jackson said, in part:

The Republicans in San Diego put forward the image, the vision of a big tent. On the cover was Gen. Powell and Jack Kemp. But clearly you cannot judge a book by its cover. For inside the book was written by Newt Gingrich and Ralph Reed and Pat Buchanan, all the rights that made Gen. Powell possible are now under assault for the next generation and all that Kemp believed in until last week is now under assault.

What is our challenge tonight? Just look around this place. This publicly financed United Center is a new Chicago mountain top. To the south, Comiskey Park, another mountain top.

To the west, Cook County jail. Two ball parks a jail. That jail, mostly youthful inmates 80 percent drug-positive, 90 percent high school dropouts, 92 percent functionally illiterate, 75 percent recidivist rate. They go back sicker and slicker.

Between these mountains of the ball parks and the jails was once Campbell's Soup and Sears and Zenith and Sunbeam and stockyards. There were jobs and there was industry; now there's a canyon of welfare and despair. This canyon exists in virtually every city in America. One-tenth of all American children will go to bed in poverty tonight. Half of all America's African-American children grow up amidst broken sidewalks, broken hearts, broken cities and broken dreams. The number-one growth industry in urban America -- jail. Half of all public housing built to last 10 years. Jails. The top wealthiest 1 percent wealthiest Americans own as much as the bottom 95 percent -- the great inequality since the 1920s. As corporations downsize jobs, outsource contracts, scab on workers' rights, a class crisis emerges as a race problem. But the strawberry pickers in California, the chicken workers in North Carolina deserve a hearing. We must seek a new moral center.

And today?

This new moral center does not come, as the Rev. Al Sharpton suggested last March at the Atlantic Yards groundbreaking, via fractional team ownership by one very rich celebrity.

"I'm glad I lived to see the color line in ownership broken in Brooklyn, where we've gone from Jackie to Jay-Z, where we can not only play the game but we can own a piece of the game," Sharpton asserted. "So my mother saw Jackie and my daughters will see Jay-Z--we have come a long way."

Sharpton was wrong not just on theory but on facts: the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats when it was established in 2002 was Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television.

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Posted by eric at February 21, 2011 9:16 AM