Urgency Reigns At Vote-Focused NAACP Convention | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Urgency Reigns At Vote-Focused NAACP Convention

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The NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, holds its annual convention in Houston this week. As in any election season, the group is focused on voting rights and voter turnout. But this year, there's another issue that's front of mind: the dramatically high rate of unemployment rate among African-Americans.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney will address the NAACP convention on Wednesday, and Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak the following day. NAACP members are ready to hear their plans.

The Race To Register

The theme of the NAACP's convention is "Your Power, Your Decision — Vote." As the national board of directors gathered in a hotel ballroom, the NAACP's Chief of Staff Roger Vann talked about the urgency of getting people registered and into the voting booth.

"Our goal is really to move about a million folks to the polls in November, which is a significant feat for the NAACP and really will be unmatched in the African-American space," he said.

Vann and other NAACP officials say they've spent months fighting voting laws that the organization considers restrictive, and they've been working to protect the right of everyone to vote regardless of their race or economic status.

At least 10 states, including Texas, have passed laws requiring people to show a government-issued photo ID card when they go to the polls. Supporters have said that will prevent voter fraud. Marvin Randolph, who heads the NAACP's get-out-the-vote efforts, calls it a newer version of a poll tax once used to disenfranchise black voters.

"What we're doing is at a time when other forces are trying to make voting harder, we're trying to make it easier for people," he says. "And we're not just focusing on how many people we can register — but it's how many people we can educate on the issues that they have to be voting about this year."

The Issues That Matter

Among the top issues NAACP members are concerned about: the economy. The unemployment rate for blacks stands at 14.4 percent, while the overall rate is just over 8 percent.

Thenise Marc, a 15-year-old from Naples, Fla., sits near vendors selling jewelry and African art. She says her father is working fewer hours. When presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden come to town, she wants to hear how they'll create jobs.

"Because I don't want to have to grow up and have to deal with this economy. We can fix it if we actually try. So I want to know what their plans are," she says.

This is a group that's been supportive of President Obama, but they come to this convention with a range of issues they say should be addressed.

"I want to hear what you're going to do about education. I want to hear how you plan on investing in the infrastructure and rebuilding this country," says Sue Wilson, a member of the NAACP branch in Williamsburg, Va. "I want to hear how you are going to take care of the elderly and the sick. Those are things that are important to me."

President Obama Sits It Out

Wilson gives the president high marks on health care and says she's satisfied with how he has tackled other concerns. The NAACP had invited the president to appear at the convention, and Wilson's husband, Clarence, says he's disappointed he won't attend.

"This whole election is about enthusiasm and getting people really charged up to get out there and vote," he says.

With a still-struggling economy, he continues, the president needs to talk about plans.

"Whereas progress has been made, there are still a lot of people out of work. I just think he would have been better served had he delivered those messages rather than the vice president," he says.

But Rev. Terrence Melvin from Buffalo, N.Y., says there is no need for the president to be here.

"We know where he stands," Melvin says. "He needs to go use his time — his valuable time — to get to those areas that are borderline, that need to be pushed over the edge."

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