By BENJAMIN TODD JEALOUS
Far too often in modern elections, sound bites trump substance and voters are left wondering what the candidates really stand for. This is even more acute for issues important to the African-American and civil-rights communities.
That is why, as we have done every presidential cycle for decades, the NAACP is traveling to the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention: to ensure that these issues are addressed by both major political parties.
This year, the Republican Party is meeting in Tampa through this Thursday and the Democratic Party meets in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4-6. These days, voting on who will lead each party’s ticket is largely a formality. But the delegates do have another important objective: choosing their party’s policy platform for the next four years.
The NAACP will promote our policy objectives in Tampa and Charlotte at briefings, meetings and speeches. Each year, we submit our policy recommendations to the respective policy bodies for each convention. We also meet with delegates and leaders from both parties and seek to find common ground on the challenges, needs and concerns of the communities we serve.
This year, for the first time, we will be guided by the five NAACP Game Changers. In the fall of 2011, the NAACP created a vision for the second century of the association. We chose five “game changers” or issue advocacy constructs: Economic Sustainability, Education, Health, Public Safety and Criminal Justice and Voting Rights and Political Participation.
All of our policy goals fall under one of these constructs. For Economic Sustainability, we will implore both parties to eliminate predatory lending and assist struggling homeowners. On Education, we will call for increased funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as financial aid for college students. One of our focus areas for Health is full funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and education. And, in order to achieve a fairer Criminal Justice system, we are calling for a national commission to review the nation’s criminal justice laws, including the racial disparities in sentencing and racial profiling.
The final piece of our policy agenda, Voting Rights and Political Representation, is particularly relevant this year. We are living through the greatest wave of legislative assaults on voting rights in more than a century. In the past year, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow. That is why in Charlotte we will unveil our latest counterattack to voter suppression: rolling billboards that raise awareness about felony disenfranchisement.
Felony disenfranchisement – denying formerly incarcerated citizens the right to vote – is a method of voter suppression that dates back before the Jim Crow Era. It was one of many tools used by state legislators to prevent full political participation by African Americans. Today, nearly six million voters are disenfranchised from felony disenfranchisement across 48 states and the District of Columbia and more than one-third of them are African American.
In Charlotte, the NAACP Voting Rights Initiative will launch a billboard campaign featuring faces of disenfranchised voters. The launch of the billboard will coincide with the launch of RestoreTheirVotes.org, a Web page dedicated to felony disenfranchisement data, policy briefs and information on former offenders who have lost their vote and their voice. The billboard also marks the beginning of a felony disenfranchisement and awareness campaign that will continue through 2013 in key states and the District of Columbia.
As we approach the Nov. 6 presidential election, our democracy is under attack from within. The NAACP is on the frontline in every state of our union and we will be visible during the convention, as well. We will turn back the massive tide of voter suppression with an even greater tide of voter education, registration, activation and protection. And we will promote our vision of a more just and equal America.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP.