PHILADELPHIA—As the nation gears up for the 2016 presidential race, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is positioning itself to be a key player, with the announcement of an 860-mile march from Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C., to train a spotlight on the issues that they want Republican and Democratic hopefuls to address in their respective campaigns.
The ambitious agenda for the “America’s Journey for Justice” march, which will commence on August 1 in Selma, Ala., will call on presidential candidates to lay out their positions on voting rights, high unemployment, declining schools, racial profiling and criminal justice reform—all central topics at the organization’s 106th convention that’s been meeting this week in the City of Brotherly Love.
“We want to leave this convention gearing up for America’s Journey for Justice,” said Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP. “The theme is that our lives, our votes, our jobs, and our schools matter. And certainly the lives of Black and Brown people matter, but also the life of our constitutional democracy matters.”
In an interview with Diverse, Brooks said that the organization is moving its members from the theoretical to the practical and has partnered with other groups such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the National Action Network to pull off the 46-day march.
“We are walking people through what ending racial profiling looks like; what are the elements?” he said, adding that the recent rash of police shootings of unarmed Black men across the nation is evidence that there is not a national standard for what constitutes excessive force by a police officer.
Brooks said that the march will begin in Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery march and to call attention to the Shelby v. Holder case that originated in Alabama.
In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that addressed the fact that racial discrimination in voting had taken place in the country and that remedies were needed to get rid of discriminatory voting practices such as literacy tests and voter identification laws. The Supreme Court ruling has now allowed jurisdictions to make voting changes without seeking pre-clearance from the federal government.
“This is a major setback for America’s democracy because it makes it easier for voter discrimination to persist, including the elimination of early registration laws, same-day voting laws, and the proliferation of voter identification laws,” said Brooks.
The list of prominent speakers at the five-day convention mostly included high-ranking Democrats, although South Carolina Republican Tim Scott—one of two Blacks in the U.S. Senate—was among the thousands of participants. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama delivered a rousing speech and former President Bill Clinton is expected to address the delegates on Wednesday. None of the other presidential candidates were in attendance.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) who chairs the Democratic National Committee praised the NAACP for its history of advocacy.
“Thank you for standing up and speaking out when young Black kids are killed by police and we are left with more questions than answers,” said Schultz, adding that tougher laws should be put in place to stop individuals like Dylann Roof from purchasing a gun that he used to kill nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. “We may not be able to change people’s hearts, but we can dictate the laws that govern their actions.”
Brooks said that the march, which will send on Sept. 16 to coincide with the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference, will take participants through five states: Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolina and Virginia—territories that have implemented voter identification laws in recent years.
“We want the journey to prompt a national conversation regarding our lives, our votes, our jobs and our schools,” said Brooks. “This conversation should be an essential part of every presidential candidate’s election platform. We need to have legislation passed to strengthen the laws in place and promote a stronger democracy built on a promise of equality for every citizen.”
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected] You can follow him on twitter @jamalericwatson