03/19/2012 02:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

His 21st Birthday, in Prison

For most people, prison is punishment. For a few, it becomes a badge of honor.

One Member of Congress told me that every few years, he gets arrested. So that people can see whose side he's on.

Eugene Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for protesting against United States involvement in World War I. Debs ran for president from prison, and he received almost a million votes (3.4 percent of the total).

And on March 11, 1986, on his 21st birthday, you would have found Jesse Jackson, Jr. in jail, for protesting at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., against apartheid in South Africa.

Both before and after that, if you wanted to find Jesse Jackson, Jr. at lunchtime on Thursdays, you wouldn't go looking for him in a diner or a fast-food joint. You'd find him at 444 N. Michigan Avenue, in Chicago, in front of the South African Consulate, protesting against apartheid. Week after week after week. The protests at the Consulate started in 1977, and they went on for more than a decade.

The protests ended only after Nelson Mandela was released from his 27 years of incarceration --another badge of honor. On the day of his release, Mandela made a speech that was broadcast around the world. Mandela called for peace and reconciliation. On the stage with Mandela that day was Jesse Jackson, Jr.

For the past quarter-century, in one way or another, Jesse Jackson, Jr. has devoted himself to the causes of justice, equality and peace. He is the kind of Democrat that Democrats always ask for: tough, fearless, compassionate and unstoppable.

He faces a serious challenge in his primary on Tuesday, from a former Democratic Member of Congress.

He needs our help. He deserves our help. Let's help him.

Remember, we don't just need more Democrats. We need more Democrats, and better ones. We can't let one who is this good slip away.


Alan Grayson