Jesse Jackson Barnstorms the Bay

Outspoken reverend weighs in on Obama, the banks, and unemployment

By Joe Rosato
|  Friday, Sep 18, 2009  |  Updated 6:15 PM EDT
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Jesse Jackson Barnstorms the Bay

Justin Sullivan

Rev. Jesse Jackson carries a sign during a demonstration against home foreclosures in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson brought his foreclosure barnstorming tour to the doorstep of the Federal Reserve in San Francisco today. Jackson is traveling the country, calling on the Feds to force banks to modify and renegotiate loans to help those struggling to keep their homes, or pay off student loans.

"We give a massive stimulus to the banks," says Jackson, "and rather than reinvest in America -- loss of jobs, foreclosures and student loans -- they're buying other banks."

Jackson walked arm and arm with followers as several dozen others trailed behind him, chanting "restructure loans, don't take our homes."

"Whole communities are sinking because people who played by all the right rules bought a home," said Jackson delivering a jab at the banks. "It's like Jesse James robbed us, he's getting paid twice."

Passer-bys in San Francisco's busy downtown did double-takes as they recognized the tall man in the navy blue button shirt. Some shouted his name into cellphones, others used them to snap pictures of the controversial civil rights leader. One man shook Jackson's hand and said he'd marched with him years ago.

The wild scene of protest stood in sharp contrast to a few hours earlier when Jackson walked into Third Baptist Church in San Francisco's Western Addition. He quietly walked among a dozen people gathered in the church hall for a morning breakfast, shaking hands and chatting with old friends. At one point, he made a sharp beeline for the kitchen where he chatted with cooks and posed next to them for pictures.

Jackson has endured heaps of criticism over the years: his critics have accused him of grandstanding, and latching onto others misfortunes to propel his personal agenda.

But Jackson shrugs off such comments, instead pointing to his half-century of civil rights advocacy.

"This is my ministry... this is my life," he said eyeing the small gathering in the hall. "I fight to feed the hungry or to visit those in prison, or to set the captive free whether its home or Iraq or Yugoslavia."

Throughout the day, Jackson fielded questions about Representative Joe Wilson's heckling of the president, or Jimmy Carter's response that "there is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African American should not be president."

Jackson sees neither act as racist. "When someone calls the president 'monkey' and 'go back to Africa' -- question his birth," he says, "these are questions that tend to take away from the legitimacy, and are dangerous and ugly and we deserve better than that."

Jackson says so far, he believes the president is doing a great job, and hopes Obama's skin color will soon fade from the national debate over health care and unemployment.

As far as Jackson's own place in history: "The good news is over a period of time we have won some great battles," he says."We are a different nation 50 years later and we will continue the drive to make this a more perfect, wholesome union for all of us."

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