Black Americans should end “victim-like thinking” and seize opportunities to help close gaps between the nation’s rich and poor, NAACP President Bruce S. Gordon said Monday.
“We may not have all the power that we want, but we have all the power that we need,” Gordon said. “All we have to do is believe it and use it.”
Gordon’s comments were part of his first keynote convention speech as head of the Baltimore-based civil rights group. The 97th annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is meeting at a convention center through Thursday.
He urged members to keeping pushing for reauthorization of expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act, which is scheduled for a vote this week in the U.S. Senate, and to improve Black voter turnout.
His words echoed those of NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who spoke Sunday and blasted the war in Iraq and attacks on voting rights even as he urged President Bush to attend the group’s convention. Bush has skipped the conventions since taking office in 2001, making him the first sitting president in decades not to have spoken to the NAACP.
Bond urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, condemned attacks on school integration and said the war in Iraq “has weakened rather than strengthened America’s defenses, including our levees,” he said. “Our troops may be fighting to secure democracy abroad, but we can’t secure our democracy at home.”
Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week after a contentious debate, but is now reportedly facing hurdles in the U.S. Senate. Addressing the NAACP’s convention, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., chided Senate Republican leaders for stalling the Voting Rights Act.
“Senator Frist. President Bush. They need to stand up to the members of their party, those who are stalling this legislation, and remind them the heart and soul of our country is what’s at stake. There is no time to waste,” Reid said.
Three of the provisions in the act are set to expire in 2007. Although civil rights leaders and lawmakers are urging speedy passage of the bill, some politicians have raised concerns about certain portions, including the provision to provide bilingual assistance to voters.
In his House speech, Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., said the Act was necessary “but we need it enforced justly, uniformly and with renewed vigor across America wherever there is a current violation.” He said Georgia and the rest of the South led the nation in civil rights achievements and thet should not have to pay for their past.
One provision requires certain jurisdictions to obtain approval or “preclearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., before they can make any changes to voting practices or procedures.
In 2001, local elections in Kilmichael, Miss., were canceled by the White town council because of the large number of Black candidates. The U.S. Justice Department stepped in and two years later, the town elected its first Black mayor.
“The VRA stops this manipulation, so that counties and states have to show they don’t have discriminatory practices,” says Spencer Overton, associate professor of law at George Washington University.
Another provision that is due to expire requires certain jurisdictions to provide bilingual language assistance to voters in communities where there is a concentration of citizens who have limited proficiency in English.
Overton also makes the case for using translated materials during elections, noting that Puerto Ricans and American Indians, specifically, are more comfortable with their primary languages.
“In fact, 70 percent of those who use translated materials are born in the U.S. So this is not an immigration problem,” Overton says. “Learning English is a good thing, but we don’t want to dehumanize people from democracy because their language skills are not strong.”
— Diverse and AP Wire Reports
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