NAACP vital amidst terror war

While the Bush administration is engaged in its global war against terrorism and implementing measures that threaten civil liberties, the NAACP is holding its 93rd annual convention this week, where the theme this year is “Freedom under Fire.”

Julian Bond, NAACP chairman, said that freedom is shrinking as fear expands. “With the events of September 11th, we realize we have not yet achieved either victory—not yet against tyranny abroad, not yet against racism here at home. Just as this enemy—terrorism—is more difficult to identify and punish, so is discrimination a more elusive target today. And just as we know a lot about discrimination, we know a lot about terrorism, too,” Bond said.

Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president and CEO, said, “This year’s convention theme, “Freedom Under Fire,” reaffirms the fact that our work continues, even in the aftermath of the tragic events surrounding September 11th. During this convention, we will work to increase public awareness of the need for election reform, and many other issues, to ensure that the right to freedom and justice is enjoyed by every citizen.”

During the convention, the NAACP addressed several issues, including affirmative action, electoral reform and voter registration, as well as business opportunities for Blacks and other minorities in the hotel industry.

Mfume and Bond also issued sharp criticism of President George W. Bush and his administration. Even though Bush addressed the NAACP convention during his run for the White House in 2000, he has declined invitations from the group since attaining the tainted presidency. Mfume said that he doesn’t like Bush’s presidential practice of “divide and conquer” when it comes to Black organizations and Black people.

“You can’t be the president of all people when you only want to deal with some of the people,” Mfume said.

Bond declared, “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 the civil rights laws. We knew he was in the oil business—we just didn’t know it was snake oil. We have an attorney general who is a cross between J. Edgar Hoover and Jerry Falwell. And, too often, one political party is shameless and the other spineless.”

Bond pointed out that there’s a right-wing conspiracy operating out of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of White House Counsel, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He went on to cite the Bush administration’s failure to uphold voting rights as only one example of broken promises.

“It is part of Attorney General Ashcroft’s failure to uphold his sworn duty to enforce the civil rights laws. We know he is offended by naked justice.”

Bond told the audience that the NAACP must continue to monitor judicial nominees and work to defeat those nominees who are unacceptable. But with less than four months left before the 2002 elections, which will feature critical congressional and state-level races, Bond says that the NAACP has to address felony disenfranchisement while working to ensure massive voter turnout.

“One hundred thirty-one thousand Black men in Texas alone cannot vote because of felony convictions—21 percent of the Black male population in this state. And we’ve got to ensure a massive voter turnout of minority voters in this year’s elections—our future is on the ballot in every state. If we don’t vote, we lose, and our children and grandchildren will lose, too,” Bond said.

The NAACP called on the Congress to adopt election-reform legislation because the lack of a federal election-reform bill is apparently stalling election reform at the state level. The civil rights group says that it’s especially important to move quickly on this issue because of the planning time required for voter education and registration.

According to a report released by the NAACP, only five governors signed notable election-reform legislation, while several states began the process of replacing punchcard machines, no state explicitly prioritized the replacement of the oldest machines in their states; and the nation’s governors remain silent about felony disenfranchisement. The report also points out that more than 5 million Americans who have completed their punishment remain disenfranchised.

Dr. Ronald Walters, who served on a voter-empowerment panel, told AmNews that it’s important for the local NAACP branches to organize on a local level to ensure electoral fairness.

“There is a real need to organize the local communities and train people in order to address significant electoral issues so that what happened in Florida doesn’t happen again,” Walters said.

He said that while on the panel, he addressed the need to get young people more involved in the political process. “There must be a targeting strategy that gets young people—the hip-hop generation—involved, but more importantly, to address the lack of civic education, because our young people today don’t know how political participation can address their issues and concerns,” Walters explained.

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