Small crowd hears Rev. Jackson praise Obama in West Philly

Posted: October 16, 2012

STEPHANIE SHEPPARD, with her 12-year-old son in tow, walked to Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia on Sunday, worried that she'd never elbow close enough to see the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was set to speak at a "get out and vote" rally.

"I figured it would be so crowded," Sheppard, 48, a mom of eight, said as she stood under towering oak trees at 52nd and Pine streets. "I mean he's such a great icon."

But with under 100 people in the sprawling park, where some people grilled burgers, hot dogs and chicken, Sheppard easily made her way near the base of the simple, white wooden stage to wait for the civil-rights leader.

Sheppard shook her head at the sparse crowd. "I just don't understand. Some people around here just don't know what's going on," she said. "They just don't care."

Under a warm fall sun, she glanced at the rowhouses across the street where hardly anyone sat on their stoops. Maybe they were inside watching the Eagles game. Maybe they didn't know Jackson was coming.

After Jackson, in a black pin-stripped suit, spoke at Bible Way Baptist Church and Greater Bible Way Temple, he made his way to the park for the rally, which was organized by the grassroots coalition Fight for Philly.

He immediately electrified the group, often with rhythmic chants that he asked them to repeat.

"I am - somebody," he bellowed, using his oft-recited message.

"Stop the violence now!"

"Our struggle is not black and white. It is wrong and right."

"Ban assault weapons."

"Our vote will salvage our nation."

"We're people who have the power to determine the destiny of our nation."

"Keep hope alive."

Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and veteran of two presidential-primary campaigns, gave his listeners reasons to re-elect President Obama.

"The central question raised is, 'Are we better off than we were four years ago?' And the answer is yes," he said.

"Because of the bail-out of the auto industry, GM is No. 1 again," he said. "More Americans are working, and more Americans have health care. We're going higher, higher and higher."

Jackson urged people to volunteer, to call neighbors or to go door-to-door to get people out to vote Nov. 6: "We measure a rally not by how many people show up, but how many people volunteer."

As the rally came to a close, Antoine Page, 22, who works two jobs, walked up 52nd Street toward his house.

"Too many people are stuck in their own drama and their own world," he said of the attendance. "It's sad. They just don't care."

Contact Barbara Laker at 215-854-5933 or, or follow on Twitter @barbaralaker.

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