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With the election just 10 days away, more than 300 Harvard students crowded into Science Center D last night to hear the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson at a "get out the vote" rally.
The charismatic Jackson, whose speech began more than an hour late, emphasized the disparate growth of the American economy and its effect on crime.
"Every city in America has a new jail and a new ball park," Jackson said. "Where is all the industry? Do we want to lock our youth up or lift them up?"
He criticized the inequality of America's judicial system, citing statistics and singling out the injustices of crack cocaine convictions.
"Five ounces of crack cocaine gets you five years mandatory, 25 pounds of powder cocaine and you can get probation," Jackson said. "Some drugs are protected by their status."
Although the rally was billed as non-partisan, it was sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe College Democrats and the Black Students Association (BSA).
Jackson, who received standing ovations before and after the speech, also sounded partisan notes.
In his plea for involvement, Jackson invoked images of the civil rights movement. He also made a defense of the word "liberal," which he said had been made "nasty" in recent years.
"America is a liberal idea," he said.
Jackson urged students to go to the polls, declaring that making "no choice is a bad choice."
"Have you ever tried to take a multiple-choice exam without making a choice?" Jackson asked playfully, followed by a round of laughter.
The two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination said that the values of youth are important.
"you're not just our future," he said to the audience of students. "You're our right now."
Police strictly enforced fire codes, meaning dozens of people were turned away from the packed room.
"It's the largest room available on campus at this time," said Eric P. Christofferson '98, who worked with the Senate campaign of John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to set up the event.
Students who were able to attend said they appreciated Jackson's presence on campus.
"It's important for him to take the lead on issues that are below the surface for a lot of people," Jonathan M. Gramling '99 said. "This election is important for the African-American community."
"The speech was inspirational," said Derrick N. Ashong '97, president of the BSA. "Every person in the room will be at the polls on November fifth."
Jackson spoke at several rallies yesterday in the Boston area encouraging voters to go to the polls.
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