Posted on March 8, 2005

Jackson Urges Black Voters to ‘Use Your Voice’

Anushka Asthana and Marcus Leroux, Guardian (London), Mar. 6

The Reverend Jesse Jackson will launch a US-style crusade to stamp out apathy among black Britons and mobilise thousands to make their mark at the ballot box, when he comes to Britain this week.

In an impassioned speech, the black civil rights activist will tell a 1,000-strong crowd that the very presence of black Britons ‘is under threat’.

‘There are those who seek to shackle your talent, and keep you at the bottom of society,’ he will declare. ‘You must seize the opportunity while you have it. You must use your vote and your voice.’

Jackson will make the rallying call at an event in London on Wednesday organised by pressure group Operation Black Vote to address political disengagement among blacks and Asians.

The group will reveal 70 seats where the ethnic minority vote can decide who wins and a further 50 where it will have a strong impact on the result. Operation Black Vote, which is led by Simon Woolley, is making a last-minute push to get 100,000 people registered to vote.

Jackson will tell the audience that ‘this is a decisive election on how your country goes forward. Black Britain must show strength in unity and unity in strength. And remember power concedes nothing without demands.’

After his visit to the capital, where he will also team up with Ken Livingstone to address diversity issues within businesses, Jackson will visit key marginal seats.

Cardiff Central, Brent East, and Enfield North are three areas where parties that successfully woo black and Asian voters will receive huge boosts at the poll. There are also some surprising inclusions such as the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham where more than 14,000 eligible minority voters could brush aside Labour’s 2,015 margin.

Elliott Nortey, a black 18-year-old from Hammersmith, has yet to be convinced about using his first opportunity to vote in a general election. ‘I don’t feel this government has anything to say to me,’ he said as he walked into Hammersmith underground station. ‘Me and my friends are completely apathetic about politics and politicians. They lie just to get elected.’

It is apathy like Nortey’s that Jackson and Woolley hope to overturn. By May they aim to have convinced Nortey and thousands more like him, to have their say.

They will be joined by Britain’s top hip-hop artists who have been inspired by the efforts of American stars like P Diddy to persuade people to vote. The run-up to the 2004 US election saw a series of events by the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, that helped to register two million extra black Americans as voters.

Young British black artists including So Solid Crew’s Asher D, Keisha White, Skinny Man, Mis-teeq and Bashy will team up to release a single, ‘Movin’, in the run up the election to tell people to vote. There will also be a series of concerts organised by NVA Entertainment.