By AL CALLOWAY
Apparently there is a lot wrong with NAACP leadership, which may be why America’s “venerable” civil rights organization seems to be falling apart. If, for argument sake, the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches were used as an example of the organization’s national problems, a cursory glance would help to clearly explain why.
A trip through the sixteen counties of South Florida from Kissimmee to Key West will reveal that many NAACP organizations function basically in name only. There exists what local people call “president for life” leaders throughout the South Florida area. These are mostly NAACP presidents that for years operate the organization out of their homes, with a few close friends as other officers.
The signature NAACP fundraising function is the annual Freedom Fund Dinner. Branches across the nation wake up to develop this affair for which tables are sold, a journal is produced with paid corporate and personal advertising and some person of prominence is the keynote speaker. Awards are given to corporate, political and other local leaders and it all makes the news. However, no public accounting of funds collected is announced.
In South Florida, as is the case throughout the nation, when a “racial” matter erupts, NAACP leaders and a few preachers are gathered to help keep the black community calm. They get TV, radio and print media time with top officials – including the sheriff and/or police chief. Other than that, too many NAACP Branches exhibit little or no needed programs or projects and therefore are, in effect, dysfunctional organizations.
Although elections are held in November of every other year for officers and executive committee members of every NAACP organization, it is very difficult to unseat a regime. The NAACP style of voter suppression is the reason why. Only the NAACP president and secretary of each Branch has access to the membership file, therefore only the sitting president’s slate of officers and committee members are known by all other Branch members prior to an election.
Opposing candidates are most often afforded a small opportunity to quickly hand copy the membership list for some short time, usually on the Saturday evening before the coming Thursday election. If by some miracle the opposing slate(s) get to copy enough addresses for mailings, letters or whatever won’t be received until Wednesday or Thursday, Election Day. Some lists have no telephone numbers and/or email addresses.
The voter suppression activity actually begins before the April 1st deadline for all persons wanting to run for office in the coming November election. All such persons must be a “member in good standing” of the NAACP Branch in which she, he or they seek to run for office. Known opposing slate members may send in their membership or annual membership renewal paperwork including dues as early as say February of the election year.
However, at the October Nominating Meeting some 8 months later, opposing slate members learn that unfortunately their memberships were not in order because they were not returned to the Branch by the National Membership Office until after the April 1st deadline. That happens when a Branch holds memberships for a certain period before sending to the National NAACP, in effect, suppressing candidacies.
Election voter suppression occurs in the same way: New memberships not known to favor the existing regime are held so as to not be valid until after the election. (A person must be an NAACP Branch member, “in good standing,” at least 30 days before an election in order to be an eligible voter.) Maybe the NAACP penchant of internally sidestepping the democratic process is why theirs is not the loudest voices in important rooms concerning the national black voter suppression crisis.
A separate organization, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., carries out legal work on issues including voter suppression laws. But local, state and regional NAACP organizations could have put in place since the white nationalist voter suppression thrust, an antidote provision such as utilizing church buses and car pools to take poor and elderly black people to get newly required state identification, or whatever.
The trouble with civil rights in the first place is that its believers bypassed human rights to get there. How can you possibly deal with civil matters before you deal with Human Rights?
READ PART II IN NEXT WEEK’S EDITION