The Wall Street Project: What Does It Mean For You?

How Jesse Jackson's focus on the financial markets could make a difference

Franklin Raines and Jack Smith, president and CEO of General Motors Corp. Vice President Al Gore piped in for an afternoon session via video conference. Jackson paused for a breath before rounding out July by convening a meeting of Chicago area business leaders for the LaSalle Street Project symposium in Chicago. The gala was held on the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange

“LaSalle Street is to Chicago what Wall Street is to New York,” says Jackson. “So we’re targeting the major finance streets across the country and we’re going to open up offices on those streets. We must engage this culture directly.”

Jackson has always been a fervent advocate of economic reciprocity between African Americans and corporate America. But historically his battles have been waged as an outsider looking in, played out with marches, protests and street demonstrations across the country. But as a tactician is prone to do, now he’s changing strategy. Jackson wants to bring the fight for economic reciprocity home to the symbolic heart of corporate America. And he wants to do it as a shareholder.

“I still believe in picketing as a legitimate form of protest and leverage,” says Jackson. “But usually you picket today about a decision made in a shareholders’ meeting six months ago. It’s almost by definition a reaction to some shareholders’ policy decision and often by then it’s too late. But when you go to a meeting as a shareholder, you now have the right to the floor. Now you can walk into a board meeting and say ‘Mr. Chairman, I’d like to see a list of our Board of Directors. I’d like a list of our employees so we can see where they fit in this company horizontally and vertically,” says Jackson, now finding his rhythm. “Then you ask, ‘Who is our advertising agency? Where are they placing our ads? Where are our monies being invested? What’s the size of our pension funds, our mutual funds, our 401 (k) plans and who’s managing them?'”

So far the Wall Street Project has purchased an average of 50 shares of stock in over 100 companies, including Allstate, Amoco, Boeing, CBS, Chrysler, Consolidated Edison, Ford Motor Co., MCI, NationsBank, PepsiCo, Texaco, Time Warner and the Travelers Group.

“If you buy 10 shares of stock in a company, we call it buying leverage stock. You can now leverage with your stock more business opportunities,” he says. “Your stock not only gives you a dollar rise as the company grows, it means you now have leverage to get more black advertisers for that company, more financial management services, attorney services, automobile leasing companies. There’s this whole range of procurement that, as a stockholder, you can now impact.”

The strategy proved effective in impacting corporate behavior inside at least one company. In 1996, H. Carl McCall used the considerable leverage of over 1.2 million shares of Texaco stock that he, as New York State Comptroller and the sole trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund,

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