Jesse Jackson shook the American political tree in 1984. Although he wasn't the first black to seek a major-party nomination for president - Shirley Chisholm, who was a New York congresswoman at the time, did so in 1972 - the Rev. Mr. Jackson was the first to go to a national party convention with enough committed delegates to be a power broker.
And as one of the three Democratic presidential candidates who stayed the course all the way to San Francisco, Jackson was an unremitting reminder to Sen. Gary Hart and former Vice-President Walter Mondale of issues important to his constituency.
Now Jackson is trying to mold the political following he amassed - which he calls the Rainbow Coalition - into a cohesive organization that can influence both party politics and national policy.
Presiding Dec. 17 and 18 at a Chicago meeting called to set up a formal organization, Jackson declared: ''We're in a vintage year for coalition building! This new coalition crosses racial lines, stretches beyond geographical regions, spreads beyond religious beliefs, and bypasses sexual barriers.''
Besides positioning the Rainbow Coalition as a political vehicle that could propel him into the 1988 presidential race, Jackson has been busy lately trying to raise enough money to pay off his $700,000 debt from the 1984 campaign. He has so far raised more than $250,000, and may be near his goal of $350,000 which , with matching federal funds, would put the financial cap on the historymaking '84 campaign.
Jackson apparently has decided not to reclaim his office as national leader of Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), the civil rights organization he founded in the 1960s, with headquarters in Chicago.
He says the Rainbow Coalition, while obviously political, ''will not be pocketed in any one-party bag. We'll support Democrats. We'll back Republicans when they are right. We'll stand with independents, too.
''We have room for the locked out, the rejected, the poor, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and native Americans.''
Rainbow Coalition leaders ''will not wait for opinion polls,'' he said. ''We must go forward even if it hurts to do right. We can't give up on the dream.''
The Rainbow has scheduled three events for early 1985 - a Jan. 12 nationwide, money-raising ''radiothon'' hosted by Bill Cosby; a Jan. 18 ''Ring Around the White House'' to protest South Africa's apartheid policies, and a March convention (the date is not yet set) in Gary, Ind., to elect national officers, says press spokeswoman Joyce Ferriabough.
As for personal plans, Jackson indicates he may go to South Africa in early February in response to an invitation from Episcopal Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Bishop Tutu will officially become head of the South African Episcopal Church on Feb. 4. Jackson says he also plans to go to Nicaragua to attend inauguration festivities Jan. 10. And his wife, Jacqueline, will be traveling to Ethopia, Somali, and the Sudan.
As to PUSH, Jackson says: ''Times have changed; issues have changed since Operation PUSH was founded. In those days I wore dashikis and jeans. I have switched to suits in the 1980s. Things we talked about then - black mayors of big cities, reapportionment of congressional and state legislative districts - were radical. They are realities today. Times have changed. We have changed.'' But he is not severing his ties with either PUSH or Chicago, where the Rainbow Coalition also will have its headquarters.