I know something you don’t know, unless you happen to have been a Democratic Member of Congress. I know what happens in the House Democratic Caucus Meetings.
Contrary to popular belief among Fox News commentators, we don’t greet each other in those meetings as “Comrade” (although occasionally, the salutations of “Brother” and “Sister” may be heard). We do not begin the meetings with a Pledge of Allegiance to Karl Marx. We do not conduct responsive readings from the Communist Manifesto.
Just as the other side doesn’t auction off tax breaks to special interests in their caucus meetings. At least, I don’t think so. I’ve never been to one of those meetings. But I think that they do that some other way.
The House Democratic Caucus Meetings take place in a somewhat crowded conference room, underground. No natural lighting. And the food I remember most is... cold pizza. Maybe that’s the food I remember because I can still taste it.
Anyway, the Leadership establishes the agenda and conducts the meetings. There always is an opportunity at the end for the rank-and-file to speak.
Some Members attend every meeting (the ones who like cold pizza, I guess). Some Members sometimes attend, normally if there is some hot issue that they want to hear about. Some Members never attend. (One Member once told that that he doesn’t attend the caucus meetings because “they don’t listen.” I said, “if you’re here, and everyone else is there, then they can’t hear you.”)
One of my main reasons for attending the House Democratic Caucus meetings is that I was hoping to glimpse something that didn’t happen very often, but was well worth the wait when it did. Something dramatic and vivid and just awesome. Something that I would enjoy at the time, and then think about for days afterward.
A speech by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., the gentleman from Illinois.
The word “speech” doesn’t do it justice. More like thunder. More like a jackhammer.
A volcanic eruption of truth.
It wasn’t really loud, and it wasn’t long, either. It was just this explosive, overwhelming torrent of thoughts and facts and emotions and principles. It was so powerful that Jesse’s body literally quivered -- vibrated -- as he spoke.
Each Jesse Jackson, Jr. speech was different, but they were all the same. Whatever words that came out that day, it all came down to this: “For all the people who desperately need our help, let’s do the right thing. Let’s help them.”
In all those meetings, I never heard Jesse Jackson, Jr. ask for anything for himself, or for some special interest, or for some donor. It was always something for the ones whom his father mentioned, in a speech that I remember hearing on July 18, 1984. He always asked for something to help “the desperate, the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the despised.”
You know. My kind of people.
Jesse Jackson, Jr. faces a primary challenge in Illinois next Tuesday. His challenger is a former Democratic Member of Congress. I want us to help him win.
I will confess to you. I have an entirely selfish motive. I want to be in Congress with Jesse Jackson, Jr. next year, and I want to hear more of those speeches. Someone needs to keep reminding us what it’s all about.
“My constituency is the desperate, the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the despised. They are restless and seek relief. They have voted in record numbers. They have invested the faith, hope, and trust that they have in us. The Democratic Party must send them a signal that we care. I pledge my best not to let them down.”
-Rev. Jesse Jackson, “The Rainbow Coalition” (1984).