The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Olivet Baptist Church pastor Kevin Adams see Volkswagen as a sign of globalized local politics that gives Chattanooga a big presence in what the legendary civil rights leader called "this New America."
"It's a good start," Mr. Jackson said Wednesday in a trip here to meet with VW officials and to encourage local residents and pastors to stand strong in the face of today's dampened economy.
"The stimulus in Washington is from the top down," Mr. Jackson said, criticizing the zero-interest bank bailouts while automakers are forced into bankruptcy and Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure.
"This stimulus (the building of the VW plant) is from the ground up," he said.
Both pastors toured the plant site at Enterprise South on Wednesday and spoke electronically with VW CEO Frank Fischer and President of Manufacturing Don Jackson in Germany. A few hours later, Mr. Jackson spoke to a packed house at Mr. Adams' Olivet Baptist Church.
In the VW meeting, Mr. Jackson said, the automaker made a commitment "of inclusion for women and people of color."
In the church sanctuary, about 1,000 people crowded to chant and cheer with Mr. Jackson.
The strongest response came when Mr. Jackson talked about high-cost student loans and foreclosures while stimulus money goes to banks and governments.
But Mr. Jackson told the audience to stand tall.
"We're building a new America and a new economy," he told the group. "There used to be a saying that all politics is local, but that's not really true anymore. Now all politics are global."
He ticked off examples: cars, plasma TVs and technology devices.
"And those other countries (where the items are made) didn't take our jobs, we sent our jobs to them," he said.
Now, Chattanooga can again have a big presence as a producer in the global economy, he said
Mr. Adams said Mr. Jackson "opened the door" for him and other minorities in Chattanooga to develop a relationship with Chattanooga's new automaker.
"We asked for 10 percent (minority hiring and contracts)," Mr. Adams said. "(VW) went over and above that. In some parts contracts, they said 17 percent."
VW spokeswoman April Wortham said the automaker's suppliers already have exceeded VW's 10 percent target.
"That is the 17 percent figure to which Rev. Adams refers," she said.
Additionally VW officials have said they aim to secure 5 percent minority contracts for the vehicle itself by the start of production, and by 2015, expect 10 percent minority contracts for the vehicle.
Ms. Wortham said VW's meeting with Mr. Jackson "was both productive and congenial," building on an established relationship between VW and Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Ms. Wortham said the VW meeting ended "with an exchange of ideas on how VW and Rainbow/PUSH can work together during this transitional time for the automotive industry."
Mr. Jackson scoffed at the notion raised by some locally that the United Auto Workers Union paid for his visit. He said that idea is "Old South" in a New South time.
His organization is "working vigorously" with UAW to save jobs in America, he said.
He and Glenda Gill, Rainbow PUSH Coalition's automaker diversity program manager, said organization officials visit with all the automakers.
"(Saying) that is an old scare tactic that some people used to use: 'UAW is coming to take your jobs.' We go to all the automakers. And we pay for it," she said.