Voting, civil rights top NAACP agenda

PHILADELPHIA – The NAACP 95th Convention, held here July 10–15, had the theme “The Race Is On.” Two currents flowed throughout every convention session: voting and defending civil rights gains.

The need to register, educate, enthuse and turn out the vote on Nov. 2 in the African American and working-class communities permeated each plenary and workshop. The 8,000 delegates attended concurrent workshops on voter empowerment, education, health care, criminal justice, economic empowerment, labor, and housing segregation. Labor issues were a prominent part of the convention, especially the “Employee Free Choice Act.” (See related story, page 8).

A special plenary on “50 Years Brown and Beyond: Promise and Progress” focused on educational equity, academic gaps and the disparities in the rate of school suspensions, expulsions and dropouts of African American students. Every branch of the NAACP has been asked to commemorate Brown v. Board by campaigning to cut the disparity rates in education by 50 percent and to revise the No Child Left Behind Act’s punitive academic measures.

The Voter Empowerment Workshop went into the nuts and bolts of voter education, registration and mobilization. Speakers from across the country explained the voting laws such as the National Voter Registration Act, which requires verification before voters can be purged from the rolls, and the Help America Vote Act, which requires registrants to show IDs. Two weeks ago the state of Florida was forced to discard a flawed list of 47,000 “potential felons” to be purged from the voters’ rolls. The NAACP, the ACLU and other civil rights groups are in the forefront of monitoring the voting process in states where African Americans were disenfranchised in the 2000 election.

Louise Simpson, chair of the NAACP Political Action Committee, said, “Four to 6 million votes were not counted in 2000 and 1 million were African American votes. The NAACP is recruiting 6,000 lawyers to protect the vote in 2004.”

Joan Funn, from Alexandria, Va., a workshop participant, said, “I’ve been thoroughly energized. I’ll be going into every place where people are to register,” she said.

Hundreds of youth attended the convention, many of them competing in the Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO). Four young people from the Camden County branch – Britton Knox, Alicia Valentine, Brittney Cream and Mark Wilson – told the World they were confident that Black youth will play a big role on Election Day. “Now more than ever African American youth will come out in large numbers due to the war and the current state of our government,” Valentine said. “This election will be powerful and very informative.”

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry addressed the warm and enthusiastic crowd, shaking hands and hugging all the way to the podium. Citing Bush’s snub of the convention, Kerry said, “Bush may be too busy to speak to you today, but he’ll have plenty of time after Nov. 2.” The crowd erupted in applause.

Speaking to the issues of the NAACP program, Kerry said that his campaign is about a job that pays the bills and has enough for some leisure time, fully-funded schools, small classes and better paid teachers, affordable and accessible health care for all, a country independent of Middle East oil and strong collaborative alliances with other countries. Kerry said it was the nation’s moral obligation to end the genocide in the Sudan as well as HIV/AIDS suffering at home and abroad.

He denounced Bush for not fully funding the No Child Left Behind Act, for the advancement of ultra-conservative judges, and for the voting fiasco of 2000, although, some delegates noted, he did not address the failure of Democratic senators, including himself, to join with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in challenging the 2000 election results at the time.

“Our job between now and Nov. 2 is to end the division between the fortunate America and the forgotten America,” Kerry said. “Let’s go out and get the job done.”

The authors can be reached atand damisbell@aol.com.