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United Press International
PUSH: Civil rights must be defended
Al Swanson
July 22, 2002
CHICAGO, July 22 (UPI) -- Speakers at the annual Rainbow/PUSH Coalition conference called for African-Americans, other minorities and whites to defend half a century of hard-won civil rights they say are under attack from the White House and legal system.

The five-day meeting opened Saturday with sessions to set a legislative and electoral agenda ahead of fall mid-term elections.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the Republican administration "has utterly failed the country in civil rights." He said President George W. Bush had offered no leadership on election reform and campaign financing and had appointed judges and top Justice Department officials who lacked a commitment to defending civil rights.

Jackson, 60, said he would hold a prayer vigil outside the Justice Department Building in Washington on Sept 13.

"Civil rights issues were clear in 1952 and 1962," said NAACP President Kweisi Mfune, who said the rights of the majority were under attack. "It was simple then. It's simple today, but not when others are redefining it.

"The irony is that while the issue of civil rights is perceived as an issue of black protest because of our historic experience, it is the historic experience, it is the majority whose rights are being diminished amidst extreme deference to the very wealthy and corporate misgoverance ..."

Mfune, a former congressman, participated in a panel that included New York activist Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, and representatives of several civil rights and women's groups.

In his keynote address Sunday, Jackson named the Rev. James Meeks, the minister of Salem Baptist Church and a long-time ally, his successor as president of the Chicago-based civil rights organization, but said he had no timetable for stepping down and no plans to run for office.

"He has the integrity, the strength and the commitment," Jackson said of Meeks in a television interview Monday. "He has gained the confidence of much of the public and has really worked at developing a sense of public policy in national government."

Meeks, 45, accompanied Jackson to Yugoslavia in 1999 when Jackson met with Slobodan Milosevic and returned with three captured U.S. soldiers. A fiery South Side preacher who is a spiritual adviser to rhythm and blues star R. Kelly, Meeks is running for the Illinois Senate as an independent against incumbent Democratic state Sen. William "Bill" Shaw. Meeks said he did not expect to take the Rainbow/PUSH reins anytime soon.

Shaw, also mayor of suburban Dolton, and his twin brother, Bob, allegedly were behind the candidacy of a retired truck driver named Jesse L. Jackson who declared against Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., in the March Democratic primary. The political novice Jesse Jackson withdrew before the election.

The theme of the 36th Rainbow/PUSH conference is "From Slavery to Freedom: Even the Playing Field." Former President Bill Clinton, who attended the recent World AIDS conference in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday leads a panel on women and HIV/AIDS. Jackson said PUSH would lead a campaign to get 1 million people to take HIV tests.

Saturday, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called for appointment of a special federal prosecutor to investigate President Bush's corporate stock trading and Vice President Dick Cheney's activities when he was chief executive officer of Halliburton Co.

Conyers said having the administration investigate corporate accounting abuses at WorldCom Inc. and Enron Corp. -- the two largest bankruptcies in U.S. history -- was like letting the fox investigate the chicken coop. He asked for "all of these officials to recuse themselves from any of the investigations and activities that are now going on with regard to these scandals."

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said rising public anger over the corporate accounting scandals could be enough to give the Democrats a fall election sweep and control of Congress. He said 16 of the 38 members of the Congressional Black Caucus were likely to become influential sub-committee heads if the Democrats win the House.

"Across the board, if we can get at least six new seats on Nov. 5, they'll be able to control the agenda and set a different agenda," Rush told an audience at the weekly Rainbow/PUSH Saturday morning forum.

"The administration is up to its neck in involvement in the corporate corrupted culture," said Jackson, who criticized the president for refusing invitations to talk to civil rights groups.

Bush was in suburban Chicago Monday to talk about his Homeland Security proposals and tour of Argonne National Laboratory, a research facility created during the Manhattan Project to harness atomic energy in the 1940s. The lab is jointly run by the federal government and the University of Chicago.