The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition is the result of the merger of two organizations founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.: Operation PUSH, founded in 1971, and the National Rainbow Coalition, founded in 1984. The two organizations merged in September 1996 in order to maximize financial, staff, and leadership resources.
The idea for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition lies originally with another program—Operation Breadbasket. Founded by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1962, Operation Breadbasket worked to improve the economic status of African Americans by boycotting businesses that did not employ or buy products made by blacks. In 1966 Jackson became the director of the Chicago campaign; besides using economic boycotts, Jackson also advocated support for African-American banks as a route to economic opportunity. Both boycotts and economic empowerment would become familiar issues within the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Jackson was appointed the National Director of Operation Breadbasket in 1967, but the program was losing momentum by 1971 when Jackson left the SCLC to found Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity, later changed to People United to Serve Humanity) in Chicago. The mission of the self-help group, which Jackson served as president of operations, was to obtain economic power to enhance the living conditions of working and poor African Americans through the use of corporate economic boycotts as a way to obtain more jobs and business opportunities. Among the corporate targets were Coca-Cola, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Adolph Coors, Montgomery Ward, and Nike. Besides economic opportunities, Jackson was also interested in social issues such as housing, welfare, politics, education, and youth affairs.
In 1985, with $6 million in government funding from the National Institute of Education of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Jackson turned his attention to problems in public education through an affiliate group called PUSH for Excellence (PUSH-EXCEL) with its emphasis on upgrading the quality of education nationwide, urging teens to stay in school, and building self-esteem among the young. During Jackson's presidential bids in 1984 and 1988, Operation PUSH also sponsored numerous voter registration drives. However, the group came under scrutiny with allegations of fiscal mismanagement that led to federal audits and civil claims.
The Rainbow Coalition
During his address at the 1984 Democratic Convention, which was held in San Francisco, Jackson used a rainbow as a metaphor for the nation and its ethnic and racial diversity—"red, yellow, brown, black, and white…. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the Native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt." The Rainbow Coalition was founded as a national social justice organization based in Washington, D.C., that was devoted to political empowerment, education, and changing public policy. The coalition allowed for third-party views in a two-party political system and lobbied for a more active role for African Americans and others marginalized by society. The Rainbow Coalition also lobbied for more of the national budget going toward domestic programs and health care and for a focus on international peace building. However, Jackson's public stance of defiance through various presidential administrations has been thought to hinder his ability to be an effective political insider.
The merged Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, with its national headquarters located in Chicago, is a multiracial, multi-issue membership organization whose stated mission is "uniting people of diverse ethnic, religious, economic, and political backgrounds to make America's promise of 'liberty and justice for all' a reality." The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition has a broad range of issues and goals, including voter registration and civic education; political empowerment; assisting in the election of local, state, and federal officials; election law reform; mediating labor disputes; challenging broadcast station licenses to ensure equal employment opportunities in the media; including more minorities in all areas of the entertainment industry; fairness in the media, sports, and criminal justice system; jobs and economic empowerment; employee rights and livable wages; educational access; fair and decent housing; negotiating with major corporations to obtain minority-owned franchises and other business opportunities; affirmative action and equal rights; a voice in trade and foreign policy; gender equality; and environmental justice. Jackson regards the current stage in the struggle for equality as economic empowerment and access to capital, industry, and technology.
Among the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's programs is the International Trade Bureau, which has been in existence for over thirty years and is intended to bring parity within the business community for minority and women-owned businesses by strengthening business contacts and opportunities. It provides technical assistance through workshops, training, presentations, and business counseling. The Wall Street Project, which began in 1998, is aimed at increasing minority involvement in business and investment in inner cities through hiring and promoting more minorities, naming more minorities to corporate boards, and awarding more contracts to minority businesses. In 1999 a financial ministry called 1,000 Churches Connected was begun to bring the message of economic responsibility to families. The program connects twenty religious organizations in the top fifty minority markets to use the pulpit, Sunday school classes, and church-sponsored seminars to teach financial stewardship, equal economic opportunity, and shared economic security. The Push for Life HIV & AIDS Initiative began in March 2000 to prevent disease and create healthy African-American and Latino communities. According to the RPC's Web site, African Americans account for 52 percent and Hispanics account for 18 percent of total HIV infections. The initiative has developed a political platform to assist the HIV/AIDS community in the eradication of HIV through increased funding and creation of a public awareness campaign regarding education, prevention, care, and treatment. Another goal is to create an international adoption program intended to link African-American churches with orphanages in South Africa. The RPC also maintains a Prison Outpost Project that provides information and programs to prisoners and to the larger community as well as offering worship and other spiritual services.
At the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's 2002 annual convention, Jackson announced that his successor would be the Rev. James Meeks, the pastor of Chicago's Salem Baptist Church, who began working with the RPC's leadership in the mid-1990s. However, Jackson said he had no timetable to step down from the organization but merely wanted to plan for the long-term success and leadership of the coalition.
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Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. "Push for Life HIV & AIDS Initiative." Available from <http://www.rainbowpush.org>.
christine tomassini (2005)
RAINBOW COALITION. The Rainbow Coalition was a group developed within the Democratic Party during the 1984 presidential election. Led by the African American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, it attracted blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, American Indians, and poor whites. As the coalition's spokesperson (and candidate for president in the Democratic primaries), Jackson criticized the administration of President Ronald Reagan and called for cuts in defense spending, strengthening of affirmative action, and federal assistance for urban workers and farmers. Although he received 3.3 million votes in 1984 and 6.8 million in a second presidential bid in 1988, the coalition's alliance fragmented, and its influence greatly diminished by 1992.
Collins, Sheila. The Rainbow Challenge: The Jackson Campaign and the Future of U.S. Politics. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1986.
Germond, Jack W., and Jules Witcover. Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars?: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency, 1988. New York: Warner Books, 1989.