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

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

oversees. With an estimated value of $114 million, McCall fired off a curt letter to Texaco Chairman Peter Bijur saying he was alarmed about the racial atmosphere of the company following the charges of racist comments made by Texaco employees. Shortly after, Bijur offered a public apology.

“When the Texaco situation happened, Jesse called and wanted me to go with some people to picket Texaco,” says McCall. “I was able to say ‘Jesse, when you own a million shares you don’t have to picket.’ I have access and leverage to companies because of the size of our investment.” Jackson agrees that “the Texaco incident was a pivotal moment.”

Today the Wall Street Project generally targets companies after being approached by individuals who feel they’ve been wronged in some way by a particular firm. They’re also focusing on particular industries, including automotive, beverage and food markets. Jackson says it’s about pushing the envelope. “Wall Street has by and large been unchallenged,” he says. “We empower politically with our vote. Now we must empower economically with our dollar.”

Don’t let all the hype fool you. The finely tailored suits and rhythmic speech only serve as distraction. Strip Jesse Jackson down to the very bare essentials and what you have is a preacher who genuinely believes his sermon. This was never more evident than back in January at New York’s World Trade Center. Jackson single-handedly gathered together the movers and shakers of high finance a hundred stories above the streets of Manhattan. He was preaching the gospel of economic reciprocity. “I’m asking those of you who seem so willing to pour billions of dollars into high-risk emerging markets all over the world to take off your blinders a
nd take a new look at your own backyard,” Jackson said. “There are overlooked opportunities here which may be superior. And I firmly believe Wall Street must take the lead when it comes to expanding opportunity and embracing diversity.”

Jackson’s efforts thus far have been embraced by the White House. At the January session, Clinton said the initiative provided a chance to close the opportunity gap. “We are here today because Wall Street has a critical role to play in fulfilling Dr. King’s dream of opportunity for all Americans,” Clinton said. “Whether ensuring that companies on the Big Board draw on the talent and diversity of all our people, or investing in communities long bypassed by capital but full of potential, businesses can help us build the one America we all need for the 21st century.”

While the Wall Street Project is still in its embryonic stages, Jackson hasn’t been shy about taking some companies to task in the early going, He jumped headfirst into the fray last November when PolyGram President and COO Eric Kronfeld commented that virtually all African Americans had criminal records. Jackson accused PolyGram of engaging in a pattern of race and sex exclusion. Then his group turned around and purchased about $1,000 worth of stock in five entertainment corporations that own record companies:

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