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Jesse Jackson, 1996: "Between these mountains of the ball parks and the jails was once Campbell's Soup and Sears and Zenith... and stockyards."

Once upon a time, before developers muddied up sports facility projects with mixed-use add-ons that might or might not deliver jobs and taxes and publicly-accessible open space, such projects could be seen plain.

Consider the Rev. Jesse Jackson's stirring 8/27/96 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The prepared text was amplified and amended in the remarks as delivered; Jackson, among other things, went off on stadiums and called--15 years before it became more mainstream--for investment in infrastructure.

As Michael Lewis explains in his book Losers: The Road To Everyplace but the White House, Jackson abandoned his notes and became the only speaker to fully engage the crowd, addressing the issue nearly everybody had ignored: economic justice.

Sports facilities as mountain tops

Jackson said, in part:
The Republicans in San Diego put forward the image, the vision of a big tent. On the cover was Gen. Powell and Jack Kemp. But clearly you cannot judge a book by its cover. For inside the book was written by Newt Gingrich and Ralph Reed and Pat Buchanan, all the rights that made Gen. Powell possible are now under assault for the next generation and all that Kemp believed in until last week is now under assault.

What is our challenge tonight? Just look around this place. This publicly financed United Center is a new Chicago mountain top. To the south, Comiskey Park, another mountain top.

To the west, Cook County jail. Two ball parks a jail. That jail, mostly youthful inmates 80 percent drug-positive, 90 percent high school dropouts, 92 percent functionally illiterate, 75 percent recidivist rate. They go back sicker and slicker.

Between these mountains of the ball parks and the jails was once Campbell's Soup and Sears and Zenith and Sunbeam and stockyards. There were jobs and there was industry; now there's a canyon of welfare and despair. This canyon exists in virtually every city in America. One-tenth of all American children will go to bed in poverty tonight. Half of all America's African-American children grow up amidst broken sidewalks, broken hearts, broken cities and broken dreams. The number-one growth industry in urban America -- jail. Half of all public housing built to last 10 years. Jails. The top wealthiest 1 percent wealthiest Americans own as much as the bottom 95 percent -- the great inequality since the 1920s. As corporations downsize jobs, outsource contracts, scab on workers' rights, a class crisis emerges as a race problem. But the strawberry pickers in California, the chicken workers in North Carolina deserve a hearing. We must seek a new moral center.
And today?

This new moral center does not come, as the Rev. Al Sharpton suggested last March at the Atlantic Yards groundbreaking, via fractional team ownership by one very rich celebrity.

"I'm glad I lived to see the color line in ownership broken in Brooklyn, where we've gone from Jackie to Jay-Z, where we can not only play the game but we can own a piece of the game," Sharpton asserted. "So my mother saw Jackie and my daughters will see Jay-Z--we have come a long way."

Sharpton was wrong not just on theory but on facts: the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats when it was established in 2002 was Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television.

Balls and strikes

Jackson, in his speech, later picked up the sports metaphor:
For us Democrats, when we change the course, the real issue is not "three strikes and you're out." If the crime is vicious enough, maybe one strike is enough. But what about the vision of "four balls and you're on"? Prenatal care and Head Start, ball one; an adequately funded public education, ball two; a marketable skill, ball three; and a job, ball four. Put America on. Lift our youth up, not lock them up.

What shall we do? Between these two ball parks and this jail, what shall we do in this canyon between the ball parks and the jail, we shall reclaim our children. Certainly, these stakes are very high in 1996. We have the burden and the obligation to win for yet unborn generations. What shall we do economically?

We have $6 trillion in private and public pension funds. Why can't we take five percent of that money, $300 billion, government secured -- use that money to reinvest in our infrastructure and put America back to work. We did it for Poland. We made for Poland, 40-year loans at three quarters of one percent, first payment due in 10 years. If we can rebuild Poland and Europe and Japan, we can build Chicago and Atlanta and Memphis and Nashville. We can rebuild America.

...On this note, I leave you now. And we protect that big tent and leave here stronger, diverse and better more challenged, and we leave here with a plan to reclaim our children, leave here with a plan to reinvest in America's infrastructure. Then we need to have the faith to hold on.

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