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Gary Younge
Independent thinking

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson is actively seeking to break away from the Democrats and support an independent candidate in future elections.

"It's time to think about an independent candidacy," he told an editorial meeting at the New York-based Nation. "The present arrangement is not working. State by state we're trying to find out what is the legal requirement to get a candidate on the ballot."

Jackson did not suggest whom he had in mind to take on the challenge but intimated that it might not necessarily be him. "I didn't say I'm going to do it. I'm saying it needs to be done."

Expressing frustration with the Democratic party for being too close to the Republicans and ignoring the views of its base, Jackson asked: "What difference does it make if you have one party with two names ... There's a certain pregnant moment here for reviewing our plan ... We need to build something that has the capacity to become a big movement."

Rejecting comparisons with Ralph Nader, the independent candidate whom some Democrats blame for Bush's victory in 2000, Jackson suggested a challenge more of the magnitude of Ross Perot, who fought the 1992 and 1996 elections.

"It was a good idea without enough of a base. Getting five, six, seven per cent, that's a nuisance number. It's not enough to sustain people beyond an election. It gave us Bush."

Jackson, who mounted strong challenges for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 said his Chicago-based organisation, Rainbow-Push, is "looking at critical states and looking at what is required to get on the ballot in each state."

Whether Jackson can deliver on his threat is an open question. He remains one of the most popular African American politicians in the country but his standing has waned over the last decade, while a new generation of black politicians, such as Illinois senator Barack Obama, has come to the fore. Either way the prospect of any split will worry the Democrats - particularly among African Americans who are their most loyal constituency.

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