By Benjamin Todd Jealous
The NAACP took a principled stand against voter suppression at their 103rd Annual Convention last week in Houston, Texas. The theme “Your Power, Your Decision – VOTE” was on full display as delegates heard from Vice President Biden and Governor Mitt Romney and learned about attacks on the right to vote in states across the country. An estimated 8,000 NAACP delegates, members and supporters traveled from around the country to represent their local units and set the NAACP’s policy agenda for the coming year.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous set the tone during the convention’s first plenary session as he criticized voter suppression efforts. He said that the NAACP is dedicated to protecting the franchise, by fighting back against suppressive laws and registering hundreds of thousands of people to vote this year.
“In the past year, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow,” he said. “The right to vote is the right upon which the ability to defend all our other rights is leveraged. We will ensure that our nation continues to practice free and fair elections even as we approach the day when people of color will be the majority in this country.”
The NAACP’s “This Is My Vote” campaign features a website – www.thisismyvote.org – with information on voter suppression efforts and a form to register to vote. The NAACP has also set up a hotline, 1-866-MYVOTE1 (1-866-698-6831) which helps people access registration forms.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder referred to voter suppression laws as “poll taxes” in his speech to the NAACP crowd. Speaking in Texas’ largest city, he specifically criticized the state’s law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo identification card. The Department of Justice challenged that law in March, arguing that it violated the Voting Rights Act.
In an important election year, Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Mitt Romney traveled to Houston to share their respective visions for the nation’s future. The two candidates offered sharply contrasting messages about the best way to revive the economy and help the middle class. President Obama also contributed a video message to the crowd.
Vice President Biden commended Attorney General Holder for his work defending the right to vote, and called for an end to racial profiling. NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock praised his speech, saying that, “From the Senate to the White House, Vice President Biden has had a strong value system in line with the NAACP’s historic mission. Today’s speech revealed that he remains committed to protecting civil rights and protecting the right to vote.
Governor Romney followed in the tradition of former Republican nominees for president by addressing the NAACP, despite overwhelming African-American support for President Obama in 2008. He argued that his economic policies would be more effective than President Obama’s, and said that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“While we are glad that Governor Romney recognized the power of the black electorate, he laid out an agenda that was antithetical to many of our interests,” said President Jealous. “His criticism of the Affordable Care Act – legislation that will improve access to quality health care for millions – signals his fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of many African Americans.”
The NAACP also used the week to introduce their five “game changers”, issue areas that will guide the Association’s mission over the next several years. Each program held a “mini summit” on their respective issue area, and Chairman Brock spoke about their importance in her keynote address during the convention’s first open mass meeting.
“Today, the enemies of justice are not lynching African-Americans and practicing Jim Crow laws of segregation,” she said. “They are more sophisticated. But they are equally sinister. They are erecting barriers to economic viability, educational quality, health care accessibility, judicial equity, and political opportunity. The opponents of justice are more refined, but they are equally threatening.”
The convention, which ran from July 5-12, also featured the 34th annual Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) competition, which brought together hundreds of the nation’s most gifted young people to compete in the areas of sciences, humanities, performing arts, visual arts, and business.