Rainbow-colored vests among convention delegates attest to blacks' political clout

Rainbow-colored vests worn by Jesse Jackson delegate whips are visible across the convention hall here under dozens of state standards. It's a smattering of unmistakable brightness, visible because of a political sophistication forged by focusing black energy on the first credible black presidential campaign.

Jackson delegates from Florida to California largely agree there is victory merely in the fact that he has mounted a credible campaign. And the consensus is that blacks back home - independent of Jackson gains or losses here - are likely to support the Democratic ticket, not so much out of enthusiasm for the party as out of a desire to defeat President Reagan.

''We've already won because Jesse has mounted hope for the future (of blacks in politics),'' says Barbara Lett Simmons, a Jackson delegate and Washington, D.C., school board member. She and many other delegates say this despite the facts that their candidate has not won the nomination, has had an uphill battle getting the party platform to reflect his agenda, and has suggested he has been slighted by the Democratic establishment.

''We've met stiff resistance here. There's a fear of accepting anything from Jackson, and because of that we have some angry people (Jackson delegates) here, '' explains Alabama state Sen. Earl Hilliard, a Jackson delegate from Birmingham. He says he's seen a reluctance to embrace Jackson issues among white Democrats at the various caucuses he's attended, and many Jackson delegates are still smarting from the rules that prevented their candidate from having a share of delegates proportional to the number of votes he received in primaries. (He got nearly 20 percent of the popular vote but less than 10 percent of the delegates.)

When he goes home though, Senator Hilliard says he and other black voters will support the Democratic ticket. But he adds, ''supporting the nominee doesn't mean we support party policy. So next time we'll work harder.''

''He (Jackson) accomplished the goal he set out to accomplish,'' concurs Sherman Copelin Jr., chairman of the Louisiana delegation.

The accomplishment is more than just having delegates on the convention floor , says US Rep. Ron Dellums of Oakland. The victory for blacks largely came by ''beginning a credible movement'' with the Jackson campaign, he says. ''We'll go home and regroup the Rainbow Coalition. At home is where we can hurt the politicians (politically),'' he says.

From Rod Bush's vantage point, Jackson's campaign underscores a political sophistication among blacks heretofore obscured by traditional wisdom suggesting that blacks had no choice but to follow the Democratic Party line because it was the only party they had. Mr. Bush, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Labor and Economic Crisis in New York, is here this week for the release of his book, ''The New Black Vote.''

Bush says the signficance of the Jackson candidacy is that it has unveiled the ''political sophistication of the black electorate.''

''Usually people (who are not in mainstream politics) who run for president are marginal,'' he says. In those cases the black vote remains with the mainstream politician. ''But this proves blacks are able to distinguish (between the outsiders),'' he says.

Bush says the Jackson candidacy has created the kernel of a new electoral coalition. Proof of this, he says, is Mr. Mondale's selection of Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro as his running mate.

''Jackson took a giant step forward in opening up the process by which a woman could be named a vice-presidential candidate,'' he says, adding that ironically the Ferraro pick has ''psychologically brought people together in a way that does in fact take some fire away from the Jackson campaign.''

But several Jackson supporters here take Ms. Ferraro's selection as one more sign of victory

''Geraldine Ferraro wouldn't have been a thought in their heads if Jesse hadn't broadened the base,'' says Ms. Simmons.

Jackson has been making the rounds of the various state delegations here, encouraging his supporters to remain with him at least through the first ballot in today's voting for the presidential nomination. It would be a symbolic ''vote of conscience,'' he has been telling them. Further, he has asked his supporters to listen in the coming months for his direction on how enthusiastically to support the Democratic ticket.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.