Delegates agree, ‘You’ve got that right!’ and vow fight for fair Supreme Court

MILWAUKEE — In a keynote speech repeatedly interrupted by applause, cheers and cries of “You’ve got that right!” from over 3,000 delegates and guests, Julian Bond minced few words at the NAACP’s 96th national convention here. He squarely challenged the Bush administration’s policies on many issues, including court appointments, voting rights, affirmative action and the Iraq war.

He noted that this was the fifth straight NAACP convention that President Bush has failed to attend.

“This administration says it’s made up of true believers, but it’s really made up of true deceivers,” said the 65-year-old chairman of the NAACP’s national board of directors. Bond said the administration has used deceptive language to unleash a relentless attack on civil rights and democracy, and has consistently appointed conservative extremists to positions of power.

“There is no issue of greater importance than the upcoming confirmation battle” around the nominee who will fill the vacancy created by Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation from the Supreme Court, he said. Bond added that President Bush must be compelled to select a nominee who “upholds the principles of justice and freedom,” and who demonstrates a sense of fairness and independence.

“This is not just a struggle by Black Americans alone,” he said, stressing the power of what he called the progressive coalition.

Noting that the group was meeting on the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Bond appealed for an energetic campaign to have Congress renew the act’s provisions as they expire.

“Are our voting rights secure?” Bond asked the crowd. “Just look at Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004,” he said, citing instances of polling place irregularities, voter intimidation, misinformation and fraud that disenfranchised thousands of African Americans.

Touching on Iraq, Bond noted the group’s early opposition to the war. “If it were up to us, every man and woman in Iraq would be alive and safe at home,” he said, eliciting a huge roar of approval.

Delegates were clearly tuned in to the NAACP chairman’s main themes.

Mickey James, 41, president of the Myrtle Beach, S.C., branch, shared Bond’s concern about the Supreme Court nominations. “We may face the task in the near future of replacing three judges — O’Connor, Rehnquist, and maybe Stevens,” he said, “and we don’t want conservatives in there.”

James said the other big issues for his branch were “full protection of Social Security and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act.”

Equal educational opportunities were uppermost on the mind of Tammi Davis, 34, president of the Gary, Ind., branch. “I am particularly concerned with the disparities in educational funding of K-12 schools. We are not receiving what we should be receiving.” Davis also expressed concern about attacks on affirmative action at the college level.

Brea Samuel, 24, a graduate student in Ann Arbor, Mich., liked Bond’s appeal for people to go out and work in the communities. “My focus is on young people. I help with the ACT-SO program,” an NAACP project that promotes youth development. “I helped take a group of young people to America’s Black Holocaust Museum here in Milwaukee, and they were deeply moved.”

Ellen Morrow, 45, president of UNITE HERE Local 2484 in Milwaukee, said she was staffing one of the many exhibit booths. She said people who visited her booth were “very receptive to the idea of a labor-community alliance.”

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, spoke to the convention on July 12, urging a big turnout for an Aug. 6 march in Atlanta for renewing the Voting Rights Act. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was set to address the group the next day.

Calling the Bush administration’s policies particularly destructive, Bond said, “Look how they’ve gone after labor unions. They’re attacking Social Security, the underpinning of every retiring American’s dream. They’re outsourcing jobs. They’re even outsourcing torture.”

However, he said, Democrats should not be left off the hook. He denounced the bipartisan compromise over Bush’s federal judicial nominees as a “one-sided cave-in” by Democrats.

“We have always been nonpartisan. But that doesn’t mean we’re uncritical. And we will not be intimidated,” Bond said, alluding to a tax audit of the organization ordered by the Bush-influenced Internal Revenue Service in the wake of his stinging criticisms of administration policies last year. “Criticism is the soul of democracy,” he said, invoking the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

Bond reserved particularly caustic words for the Bush administration’s “faith-based initiative.” He said Bush’s program was a ploy to shift the responsibility of upholding social equality and caring for the poor and neglected from the arena of a democratic, secular government to private interests corrupted by money.

Bond said that despite continuing inequality between whites and Blacks and Latinos in employment, housing, and education, the administration claims that “discrimination is dead, that civil rights measures create ‘civil wrongs,’ and that African Americans are held back by a ‘Black pathology.’ We emphatically reject this racist ideology,” Bond said, evoking a sustained outburst of applause.

Also sharing the platform were Rep. Gwendolyn Moore (D-Wis.), Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Rep. Melvin Watts (D-N.C.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), among others. Incoming NAACP National President Bruce Gordon was introduced by Bond from the stage.

The six-day convention drew about 8,000 participants.