Rainbow/PUSH is the result of a 1996 merger between two groups founded by Jesse Jackson. One was People United To Serve Humanity (PUSH), established in 1971, which advocated race preferences in the form of affirmative action. PUSH also helped sponsor a massive June 12, 1982 rally, organized by the Communist Party USA and the Soviet-supported U.S. Peace Council, advocating the dismantling of America’s military arsenal. The other organization was the Rainbow Coalition, formed in 1985 to counter policies enacted during President Reagan’s second term which Jackson deemed discriminatory against African Americans. Today Rainbow/PUSH maintains its national headquarters in Chicago, and has branch offices in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Silicon Valley, New Orleans, and Washington, DC.
Characterizing the United States as a nation rife with discrimination against African Americans and other minorities, Rainbow/Push lists its major issues as: “Jobs and Economic Empowerment; Employee Rights and Livable Wages; Educational Access; Fair and Decent Housing; Voter Registration and Civic Education; Election Law Reform; Fairness in the Media, Sports, and Criminal Justice System; Political Empowerment; Trade and Foreign Policy; Affirmative Action and Equal Rights; Gender Equality; and Environmental Justice.”
One of Rainbow/PUSH’s chief campaigns has been its quest to increase minority representation in various industries, most notably the broadcast media, the entertainment industry, and the automobile industry. It has also worked to increase the number of minority administrators in college and professional sports.
A principal tactic by which Rainbow/PUSH drives its agenda is the often frivolous charge of racism, followed by public protests and threats of widespread boycotts. Throughout its history, the organization has employed this technique with considerable success. In 1998, for instance, the Coalition declared that the lending and employment practices of the mortgage institution Freddie Mac were racist, and Jackson encouraged major shareholders in that company to sell their stock. Shortly thereafter, Freddie Mac pledged to earmark $1 billion in mortgage loans specifically for minorities; it donated more than $1 million directly to Rainbow/PUSH and became a sponsor of Jackson’s annual Wall Street Project.
More recently, Rainbow/PUSH set its sights on NASCAR, labeling the sport of automotive racing “the last bastion of white supremacy” — because there were, in Jackson’s view, too few black competitors on the racetracks. Fearing negative press and legal hassles, NASCAR officials instituted a “mandated sensitivity program” for its employees and began to transfer some $250,000 of its money into the “nonprofit” coffers of Rainbow/PUSH.
The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition has also initiated a series of smaller campaigns in an effort to promote its vision of social change. These include: the HIV/AIDS Initiative, which seeks to increase U.S. funding for AIDS programs exclusively for minorities; the National Field Department, which states that there is “no substitute for constructive agitation to bring about societal change”; and the Prison Outpost project, whose ultimate goal is “to eliminate the need for prisons.”
The racial and ethnic policies of Rainbow/PUSH were on display in October 1997 when this organization — along with the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and the League of United Latin American Citizens — joined forces to organize a march across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge “to protest attempts to discriminate against immigrants and dismantle affirmative action.” At issue were Proposition 209 (which banned racial preferences in California’s public sector) and Proposition 187 (which was designed to deny illegal aliens in California access to taxpayer-funded benefits). According to Rainbow/PUSH and its rally co-sponsors, such policies represented “forces of discrimination” that had “singled immigrants out for punishment” in an effort to lead America “back into a system of institutionalized racism.” “The dream is not to be color blind nor gender blind,” Jesse Jackson told his fellow marchers that day, “but to be color and gender sensitive and caring and inclusive. … We choose vision over blindness.”
In 2001, Jesse Jackson named former (1993-1995) Chicago Democrat Congressman Mel Reynolds to the Rainbow/PUSH payroll as a consultant for prison reform efforts aimed at decreasing the number of young African Americans behind bars. Reynolds was among the 176 criminals excused in Bill Clinton‘s last-minute pardons as he ended his second term as U.S. President. Clinton’s pardon gave Reynolds a commutation of his six-and-a-half-year federal sentence for 15 convictions of wire fraud, bank fraud, and lies to the Federal Election Commission. Reynolds had also served prison time for his 1995 convictions on 12 counts of sexual assault (he had sexual relations with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer), obstruction of justice, and solicitation of child pornography.