The NAACP is the oldest Civil Rights organization in America, 109 years old. It was birthed out of the Springfield, IL riots of 1908. The NAACP has a presence in 47 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. There are 2200 hundred branches around the country. It is a volunteer driven organization and is only as strong as its volunteer base. The NAACP is an advocacy organization and its mission is to fight discrimination wherever it exists.
“It was the NAACP that championed the fight for justice when 13 years old Emmitt Till was murdered. It was the NAACP that brought the lawsuit Brown vs. the Board of Education. It was the NAACP that has filed over 10,000 lawsuits to hold public education accountable. It was also the NAACP that filed 20,000 lawsuits to address issues around voting rights, and the NAACP who marched in the streets to hold government accountable. However, we can’t rest on our laurels, they’re not strong enough.” These are words spoken form Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP.
This piece is sharing Mr. Johnson’s vision for the 21st century NAACP. Mr. Johnson is emphatic that we don’t have time to be in competition with other Civil Rights organizations. We have different roles and different methods, but the same objective. Each organization should be clear what its purpose is and operate within its own unique method. The next 5 years is the most crucial point in this democracy and it’s critical we walk lock step together.
The NAACP purpose is to impact public policy so that our children can pursue bright futures and that our participation in this democracy is honored. We do that by equipping and empowering our communities with the information needed to leverage our collective votes and to seek outcomes that best represents our community. In this democratic society we live in; the only power we have as African-Americans is to organize our votes. Having a conversation around policy without power is nothing more than an academic exercise. Our vote is our currency.
In a democracy, the role of government should be to make it easy to vote, to encourage people to vote and to open up access to voting. But when a democracy is weakened and capital controls, it exploits people and results in voter suppression. Our responsibility is to challenge democracy as it is being applied to people. We must make sure government is governing our interest and we are not victims of government, but owners of government.
Our history is there to inform our strategy for moving forward. We have to re-image opportunities and take on the fights where they exist. We have to re-image justice, and stop chasing behind the argument of mass incarcerations, but un-elect district and states attorneys, who are complicit in sending our children to prison. We have to understand the power of voting No against judges, who give African-American children harsher and longer prison sentences.
We have to re-image voting rights, instead of talking about a weakened voter’s right act, let’s fight for compulsory voting, that 200 countries have, which requires people to vote. In Australia 96% of its citizens vote, 93% in Germany and 92% in Canada vote.
We have to re-image how we vote for candidates, not just being transactional but by having an ongoing dialogue. Ensuring that any member of local, state or federal government, who rely on Black votes, when they betray us on critical issues, it will be the NAACP’s job to deny them of every Back vote they would ever get.
Elections have consequence, and we must ensure that we are participating in the process. We are living with the results of the 2016 presidential election. This current political landscape demands us to be bolder than we’ve ever been. There is a level of intolerance that we must resist, but there is no value in getting into a public discourse with President Trump. We must recognize the difference between power and emotion. Hate is an emotion, Voting is about power. We cannot change hearts, but we can hold politicians accountable to the rule of law, and demand equal protection to everyone, by how we leverage our vote.
We must re-image what we are going to do for the next 5 years. We must become a method driven organization, strategic and focused on outcomes. The 2018 mid-terms were successful. We must be laser focused on the 2019 census, 2020 presidential election, 2021 redistricting, and 2022 mid-terms.
Pastor Marvin Hightower has been re-elected for another two-year term as the president of the Peoria NAACP Branch. In following the direction of CEO Derrick Johnson, Pastor Hightower stated, “The Peoria branch will be focused on increasing voter education and participation; holding our elected officials accountable by publicly challenging policies that have a negative impact on the African-American community; and to continue to foster collaboration with other civic and civil organizations with like objectives. All politics are local. Collectively we can determine who the next Peoria Mayor, City Manager, and City Council members will be. It will not be about personalities, but about the policies they support.”
Pastor also understands our challenge in convincing a non-voting constituency the need and value of their vote. He said it this way, “Negroes fought for it, colored people died for it, Black people sold it, and African-Americans don’t understand it.”