2002 NAACP Annual Convention Address
Houston Texas 8jul02
My friend through many battles and dangers and toils and snares, Jesse Louis Jackson. I thank you for that kind, gracious remarks. I thank you for your friendship over the last quarter century and your leadership over the course of a lifetime. It has been significant, and in some respects it has been singularly unique. You have been, as the poet once wrote, a stalwart in the storm, one who has stood steady and steadfast through it all. And no matter how long the journey, cold the chill, fierce the enemy, or few the friends, you captured our will to dare to be different and our will to dare to make a difference.
Jesse Jackson found some of us long before the dawning of this current century sitting around on life's dusty mantle of what-nots, and he lifted us up and dusted us off and told us how to say "I am somebody."
Mr. Chairman, Madame Vice-Chairwoman, you too have given us much to be proud of and much to hold high. Julian Bond is not just a distinguished icon of the Civil Rights Movement but also a present day reminder of the struggle for equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity. He continues to lead us through the simple eloquence of his example; and for that, this organization has been made better.
Roslyn Brock, without question, sermon, or comment, clearly is, in many respects, the manifestation of the hopes and the aspirations of a generation long since removed. What a woman and leader in your own right you too have now become.
I want to thank Mayor Brown, who could not be with us for all of the activities this morning but was with us all yesterday evening, for his leadership of this city; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. Let me just suggest and be redundant by also mentioning, if I might, on a point of personal privilege and out of a great deal of respect, the presence of Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey, Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and Elaine Jones, dean, director, and leader of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Distinguished members of the national board of directors, special contribution fund trustees, NAACP delegates, members, and friends, I am honored to greet you on the occasion of our 93rd annual convention and to report to you on behalf of our 1700 branches in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Germany, Japan, and Korea, to say to you as both the chair and I always do, and to remind others in the process that as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, we believe that colored people come in all colors.
We gather here in Houston today, and we do so particularly this year in unbroken solidarity with the proud men and the proud women of our armed services, many of whom are serving at this very hour at outposts all over the globe. They are of different colors and different creeds, different religions, and different races. But they are, in fact, the patriots of this new generation, and they are all singularly American.
It is clear that this moment for them, like this moment for us, is like no other in our recent history. For ten months now we have been living life with a new reality. Ten months ago, our homeland was attacked, our existence was threatened, and our way of life was challenged as never before. We faced, in many respects, a new world order and one which very few people foresaw. It was thrust upon us suddenly when four jet airliners were hijacked, all of which came screaming across the quiet, mid-morning sky to lead an assault on America's way of life. Until then, all threats to our nation seemed to us to be distant and far from our daily lives.
Now for us, the witnesses and the survivors of that history, routines will forever be altered and priorities radically and forever changed. Freedom under fire from a militaristic point of view did not carry the urgency of just one race because now it affected us all. Thus, the twin towers of brick and mortar may have collapsed, but the twin towers of freedom and justice will never be destroyed.
And so for us, our mission has been profoundly intensified. Reactions, strategies, and responses have run the imaginable gamut. Many would like to forget and to go on with life as they always have; but yet, those of you who understand true freedom under fire know that for us, we cannot. We know that at best we are in a momentary interval of uneasy peace, knowing as we do, black and brown in particular, that historically, both war and recession have traditionally correlated into diminished civil rights for the masses of black, Latino, and Asian Americans. That notwithstanding, let there be no mistake. Ninety-three years after the NAACP found its genesis in the crucible of terror, born of lynchings and left on the vine to rot, our spirit has been rekindled and we have been reborn and recast yet again.
As fighters for freedom, for dignity, for equal justice under law, we need not ask ourselves why is ours a lofty mission, for many of our ancestors lived without freedom as indentured servants in what was to become known as the peculiar institution of American slavery. We learned the hard way that emancipation did not necessarily mean the ending of oppression. Many of us grew up in the other America, forced to see firsthand the signs that read "For Whites Only" and made to live under a system that resulted in the daily denial of rights and the disallowing of liberties. So it is both proper and fitting that the NAACP, for nearly a century, would fight despite the odds to procure those rights, to savor those liberties, and to insist on equal justice under law for all Americans.
Now progress has been made through that span of nine decades. We don't deny that. We celebrate. Victories have been won. Racism has been challenged. We acknowledge that. Yet, we must always choose to remember so that we will never be prone to forget. We are fighters for freedom and fair play. We remain, as we have been, the conscience of America and responsible citizens of the world. Those are not mutually exclusive roles; they are, however, necessitated by our history. They are mandated by our nationality. They are made evident by our humanity.
For the NAACP, this day and every day, the challenge is enormous. It means that it is us who must lead and not wait to be led. As architects of our own destiny, we must continue to find ways to speak out against injustice, although it may not be popular. And we must speak out not just against injustice to ourselves but against injustice to everyone. For we have long and often been the targets of bigotry and hatred and oppression; and yet, through it all, we have continued to find in the genius of our being the ideas and the principles that defy the enemy.
We too hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among those shall be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We believe as an organization that racism and sexism and anti-Semitism are wrong. We know better than most, as a matter of critical fact, that black bigotry is just as cruel and evil as white bigotry.
We, who are the sons and daughters of sharecroppers, who understand discrimination at its core, know in our heart of hearts that immigrant bashing and union bashing and gay bashing and city bashing at the end of the day depletes us as a nation and rob us of our ability to change the course of history.
So now is the time for us to be eternally vigilant in protecting the republic, but also in protecting the Democratic principles on which it stands, because in fighting for freedom, we cannot relinquish the liberties that are the foundation of this society. If we lose that, then we lose everything for which we fight. Our goal is not to recapture yesterday or to make things better than they were a few months ago or a few moments ago. We must make them better than they have ever been before, and we must make them better for everyone.
Grave issues of injustice confront us. The madmen of today's world, much like the racists that dot our 93-year history, use terrorism to intimidate, lies to deceive, and unjust and ungiven power to oppress. Therefore, to assure domestic tranquility, we will continue to advocate for laws and policies that are fair, equally applied, and protecting of all.
Without apology, we have come to Houston today to use this convention to continue in our demand for fairness on the part of those empowered to interpret the laws of the land. The recent Supreme Court decision on school vouchers by those empowered to interpret the law of the land interpreted the constitutional process but did nothing to solve the problem of shifting public dollars to public schools. It is the equivalent of Robin hood in reverse.
Moreover, we have the audacity to decry and denounce a judicial nomination process where civil rights, civil liberties, and equal protection under law are forced to take a back seat to partisan politics and political affiliations. And so, accordingly, it was the NAACP in every nook and cranny and every city and hamlet across this nation that stood proudly in firm opposition to the senate confirmation of Judge Charles Pickering, Sr., of Mississippi; and we will stand against all others, whether those on the far, far right or on the far, far left, whose judicial record gives rise to suspicions about their ability to render impartial judgment and proper interpretation of federal law.
Our fight is also to ensure a system of government that affirmatively affords the basic guarantees of citizenship to everyone. We challenge members of the house and senate as these individuals who have come to stand with us in that challenge to take the lead legislatively on action in these last few weeks of this Congress against hate crimes, against racial profiling, and against ongoing racial discrimination in the federal sector of our government. We reject the political pandering by parties. We want results. The real truth is that every Republican is not your enemy and every Democrat is not your friend. That's the real truth. And yes, 34 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, we still have a society where some in the Democratic party take our vote for granted and some in the Republican party too often refuse to campaign for it.
Now, you know, I've said in every interview that I've had that I like George Bush. I think he's a likable fellow. But I don't like his presidential practice of divide and conquer when it comes to black organizations and black people and black thinking. Hear me out. I submit to you today that there is a reason why President Bush has not found the time or the inclination in two whole years to sit down and have one 30-minute dialogue, honestly and openly, with this organization on a number of issues. At the end of the day, the fact is clear this is still the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. In spite of that, we continue to reach out. In spite of that, we continue to invite, and in spite of that, we continue to be prepared for whenever that day might come.
And there is a reason also why the Republican Party has not urged him to do so. Elections of 2000 are over. The losers have been told to get over it. Well, we say to this administration also, "Get over it." You can't be the president of all the people when you're only going to deal with some of the people.
On the other hand, legislatively, the nation's Congressional leadership, in our opinion, cannot stand motionless, like deer frozen in the rays of a car's headlamps because they may be fearful that legitimate scrutiny of the president's domestic policies will make them look as if they're unpatriotic. It is true, as we all know, that our nation is at war. For ten years as a member of Congress, I took an oath at the beginning of every session to protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Like many, I subscribed to the notion that all politics stopped at the water's edge. Like many, I have supported this president's efforts overseas to root out terrorism and terrorist activity. But you cannot buy my silence or the silence of the NAACP on issues of oversight that if not kept in balance have the potential to hurt American workers and destabilize American economy.
Congress cannot sit by idly and not react to proposals after proposals for one large tax cut after another while the government rushes headlong into the dark and difficult days of deficit spending and unbalanced budgets. There was a time that the mantra was how dare you have an unbalanced budget. The mantra was they can't govern because they've got deficits. And yet we are rushing back into those days headlong. There's got to be a loyal voice of opposition that raises that kind of utterance. While we are still in many respects not thought of as being worthy of being that voice, allow me to say this: We are still the last hired and the first fired. When the economy catches a cold, our communities get pneumonia. We are not economists, but we understand economies of scale. We now that nothing from nothing leaves nothing. Don't run the risk, Mr. President, of damaging the economy with unrequested tax cuts. Don't ignore the needs of everyday, hard working families.
As tax payers, we want a cure from Enron-itis and Worldcom fever. We want a cure. But more than that, the NAACP also knows, on a broader scale, that in today's world our absence has consequences beyond our borders. Hence, we cannot, must not, and will not ignore the AIDS epidemic in Africa or at home. We will speak out whether you want to hear it or not. We cannot be silent. We cannot and must not tolerate unfair trade policies against nation states in the Caribbean or quietly condone 21st Century slavery in the Sudan. We cannot and we must not acquiesce to unjust immigration policies or remain silent in our response to the gross violations of dictators regardless of the color of their skin.
Our mission demands that we devote our efforts to the core values of democracy by empowering voters to create a government truly of, by, and for the people. We submit that there is no greater imperative than the need for our government to protect the right of all Americans to be able to cast a free and unfettered vote, and for them to have every reasonable belief that that vote will be counted and protected. Accordingly, our fight for real and for meaningful election reform in the last days of this Congress is not a request; it is a demand. It's a demand.
Finally and fittingly, as we gather here in this great city of Houston, allow me, as Rupert Richardson did the other day, the license to appropriate the words of actor Tom Hanks who played the role of an astronaut in the movie Apollo 13. When he radioed back to mission control in order to communicate the seriousness of what he was confronting at a time of deep crisis, he said in five simple words, "Houston, we have a problem."
When breast cancer among black and Latino women and diabetes and cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer among black men, when hypertension and kidney disease and HIV and full-blown AIDS ravage our communities and the disparities in health care continue to go unnoticed, unchecked, and unconcerned by the larger health care and medical community, "Houston, we have a problem."
When our young people, children, are incarcerated and then given harsher penalties than those given to others because they are black or Latino, "Houston, we have a problem."
When our nation's banks and our nation's insurance companies deny us loans or charge us double for insurance just because of our zip code, or surname, or the color of our skin, "Houston, we have a problem."
When the television industry, the most powerful medium ever known to mankind, and the motion picture industry continue to deny us meaningful roles in front of the camera and meaningful roles in management behind the camera, "Houston, we have a problem."
When as a race of people we refuse to take responsibility for our lives and our futures and, instead, spend all of our time blaming white people for our roles, "Houston, we have a problem."
When we allow song lyrics to defame our struggle, demean our ancestors, denigrate our women, and disrespect our culture, "Houston, we have a problem." Public education is still the basic cornerstone for millions of American families and their children. But if we fail to address the issues of class size and curriculum development and absenteeism and truancy and drop-out rates and resegregation as a result of something called choice and do nothing about it, "Houston, we have a problem." And so as an organization for change, our charge is to find the means and the method to end the redlining of our neighborhoods, to end the redlining of our schools, to end the redlining of our people. Our charge is to, in this new era, advance as a legitimate goal the extension of the Civil Rights Movement. Our charge is to advance capital formation and to create in our communitiesí circular flows of income in which we find ourselves, but we must fight like hell against predatory lending and those who want to take, take, take but give nothing back in return.
So we have come to Houston one to another, to reclaim and to refocus on a mantle of 93 years of advocacy. And I have come to Houston to say to you and to remind America that I have not given up on the American dream or on the American possibility, and I ask you not to give up also. Ninety-three years after our founding, the NAACP is still convinced that our nation stands before the world as perhaps the last expression of a possibility of mankind devising a social order where justice is the supreme ruler and law is but its instrument, where freedom is the dominant creed and order but its principle, where equity and fraternity are the common practice and the true human condition.
NAACP has come to say to all Americans that the task ahead is a task for all of us. Ending disparities will not come overnight, but end them we must. Building a more perfect union does yet require more perfect beliefs. So we reach out today to others all across this nation, different in race, different in religion, different in heritage, to join the NAACP as a coalition of Americans seeking to bring full meaning to our birthright by bringing justice and equal opportunity to all.
May God bless us in that effort and may God bless America. Thank you.
source: http://www.naacp.org/ 9jul02
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