Magazine article The New Crisis

The NAACP Today

Magazine article The New Crisis

The NAACP Today

Article excerpt

NAACP Convention Galvanizes Delegates for Action

Approximately 20,000 people went to Houston July 6-11 to attend the NAACP's 93rd Annual Convention. The convention, themed "Freedom Under Fire," kicked off with a health "jazzercise" and the opening of the Commerce and Industry Exhibition.

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors, set the convention's tone with a keynote address on July 7. Bond had the audience in stitches when he observed: "We have a president who owes his election more to a dynasty than to democracy. When he spoke to our convention in Baltimore in 2000, he promised to enforce civil rights laws. We knew he was in the oil business - we just didn't know it was snake oil." Bond spoke of the erosion of civil liberties since Sept. 11, characterizing Attorney General John D. Ashcroft as a cross between J. Edgar Hoover and Jerry Falwell.

Earlier that evening, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, cautioned against the dismantling of civil rights. "We read almost on a daily basis of minorities suspected of terrorism or some other unnamed crime, but they are held (without being charged) until the government figures out what to name it."

The problem is severe enough that lawyers from the NAACP Continuing Legal Education program included it in convention workshops. Topics were: immigration issues for minorities after Sept. 11, racial inequality in education, growing disparities for women of color in the American criminal justice system and incompetent criminal defense counsel, and the unjust impact on clients.

NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume weighed in on the matter in his keynote address July 8: "Our mission demands that we devote our efforts to the core values of democracy by empowering voters to create a government of, for and by the people. We submit that there is no greater imperative than the need for our government to protect the right of all Americans to be able to cast a free and unfettered vote, and for them to have every reasonable belief that that vote will be counted and protected."

Mfume demanded that Congress enact meaningful election reform. The NAACP released an "Election Reform Report Card" at the convention showing that most states had not moved on the issue. Also at the convention, the NAACP recognized a long-time civil rights champion. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was awarded this year's Spingarn Medal, the NAACP's highest award.

Lewis, an eight-term member of

Congress, has been an active participant in the fight for voting rights and electoral reform most of his life. He risked his life in the 1960s, marching and protesting for the right to vote and to dismantle segregation. Lewis led "freedom marches" in Nashville while attending American Baptist Seminary. He went on "freedom rides" in Alabama and was clubbed unconscious and left for dead while attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in a voting rights protest. Lewis also was one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

During the convention, delegates voted on resolutions addressing police brutality, health care and predatory lending. They attended workshops designed to hone their organizing skills and bolster their resolve, especially in the area of voter empowerment. Speakers urged attendees to continue the fight for freedom, despite the fact that hard-won civil liberties are under attack because of heightened security since last year's terrorism.

After participating in six days of seminars, meetings, workshops and job and health fairs, as well as enjoying a variety of celebratory luncheons and dinners, NAACP delegates left Houston anxious to put what they learned into practice in their own communities. This kind of motivation won't be available again until next year, when delegates meet in Miami.

- Phil W. Petrie

NAACP Gives State Election Reform Efforts Failing Grade

By all accounts, election 2000 was a fiasco in terms of counting every vote. …

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