George Mason University

News at Mason

Jackson urges students to ‘march to the polls’

September 15, 2017   /   by Preston Williams

Mason students talk to Rev. Jesse Jackson

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to students about voter registration and civic engagement at an event hosted by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education and Student Involvement at Harris Theater. Photo by Ron Aira.

Civil rights activist and two-time Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson visited George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus Friday night to encourage students to register to vote. But Jackson brought more than just a call to mobilize – he supplied the necessary paperwork for students to register on the spot.

“What makes America great in part is the right to fight for right,” Jackson said to a crowd of about 100 students, faculty and staff in the Harris Theatre. “I want you at this school – every frat, sorority, every social group, every athletic team --- to march to the polls….There are many reasons we don’t vote and none of them stand the test of good sense.”

One Mason student who took Jackson up on his offer was junior psychology and pre-med major Raven Smith, from Washington, D.C. Smith was one of several students to make her way to the lip of the stage to fill out voter registration paperwork at the feet of a smiling, sneaker-clad Jackson.

“It was spur of the moment,” said Smith, who ultimately gave in to Jackson’s good-natured guilt trip. “[I thought], ‘Just for you, I’m doing this.’ I’ve always wanted to meet him. Getting to see him in person I had to tell myself, ‘Don’t you cry.’ Meeting Jesse Jackson – it’s a blessing, it’s a privilege, it’s an honor.”

Jackson’s appearance at Mason, sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education, and the Office of Student Involvement, was the latest of several Virginia stops on his extensive voter registration drive during the run-up to the Commonwealth’s gubernatorial election Nov. 7.

Mason students register to vote after hearing Rev. Jesse Jackson talk about voter registration and civic engagement at an event hosted by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education and Student Involvement at Harris Theater. Photo by Ron Aira.

During his 30-minute talk, followed by question-and-answer and meet-and-greet sessions, Jackson, 75, acknowledged the recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and noted that the perpetrators are “more lost than they are mean.”

The 1984 and 1988 presidential candidate also noted that the date of his visit to Mason, Sept. 15, marked the 54th anniversary of the racially motivated church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four young black girls, a flashpoint of the Civil Rights Movement.

“Your generation has the burden not to see those who marched in their hoods as mean but in many ways as sick,” Jackson said. “They’re not born that way. A virus is in their soul. We must rip the virus out and redeem the soul of America.”

It was Jackson’s personal experiences that most impressed Tejon Anthony, a junior computer science major from Baltimore. Anthony noted the many opportunities Mason students have to hear from national thought leaders of various backgrounds.

“It’s one thing to know about the history of America, but to have someone who’s actually lived through the trials and tribulations of African American people, it’s a great experience to have,” said Anthony, chapter president of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., of which Rev. Jackson is a brother. “We’ve come such a long way, and it’s great to know that our voice can really be heard now and we can make a difference.”

For more information about voter registration and the upcoming election, visit http://masonvotes.gmu.edu/