NAACP convention theme, ‘Defeat hate — vote,’ engages civic involvement

NAACP convention theme, ‘Defeat hate — vote,’ engages civic involvement
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This week, the United States Supreme Court decided in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute that the State of Ohio can lawfully target for removal from its voting rolls people who have not voted in recent elections. The decision, its potential for disenfranchising voters of color, and the responses needed to counteract such disenfranchisement will be evaluated next month at the NAACP’s 109th annual convention in San Antonio, Texas.

This year’s convention is molded by, and reflective of, the political realities we currently face. With the approaching congressional, state legislative and gubernatorial elections, the Husted decision looms especially large. We need to call out the practice of purging infrequent voters from voting lists in Ohio and in other states, such as Georgia, for what it is: a thinly-veiled attempt to suppress voting in communities of color. 

Spreading far beyond Ohio and the Midwest, voter suppression tactics have become more overt, sustained and malicious over the past few years. With recent voting rights victories in North Carolina, Texas and Louisiana, a major win in our challenge to the attempted rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and a recently-filed lawsuit to ensure a more accurate census count in communities of color, the NAACP and like-minded partners are leading the efforts to ensure that our communities are full participants in the American democracy.


Taking place from July 14-18, the NAACP annual convention will bring together more than 8,000 people from across the country to address a variety of topics that greatly affect African Americans and people of color. Over the past 18 months, we have seen policies coming from federal agencies that are wholly detrimental to our most vulnerable citizens. These include the rollback of voting rights enforcement and a return to draconian drug sentencing policies at the Department of Justice; the attempt to remove fair housing enforcement from the mission of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; requirements for mandatory dismissal of meritorious complaints at the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education; and the virtual elimination of funding for environmental justice programs at the Environmental Protection Agency.   

We see a determined effort to seize on America’s racial divisions for political gain: demeaning references to Muslims; President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE’s slur directed toward predominantly black countries and their citizens; immigration policy designed to purge America of immigrants of color; and the president’s delayed condemnation of white supremacy hate groups following last year’s horrific violence in Charlottesville. The unfortunate but predictable result is that, since the 2016 election, hate crimes have increased in this country and hate groups have gained momentum.

The confluence of the assault on civil rights, ongoing and increasing efforts to suppress the vote in communities of color, and the atmosphere of racial division in our nation led the NAACP to adopt as the theme of its convention, “Defeat Hate — Vote.” 

In this political system, our vote is our voice and our greatest asset in demanding that our leaders steer us forward, not backward. We owe it to ourselves and our children to elect officials who champion our values and uphold the dignity of our democracy. Willie Lewis Brown Jr., the first black speaker of the California Assembly and former San Francisco mayor, is one such leader; he will be awarded the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, at this year’s convention.

Mr. Brown will be among a lineup of 35 speakers at the convention, including public officials, faith leaders, community activists, entrepreneurs and civil rights advocates.

Leading up to the Spingarn Medal dinner on July 18, attendees will participate in continuing legal education seminars, regional workshops, issue-specific events including LGBTQ, veterans affairs, youth and college, arts and entertainment, and a hip-hop summit on social justice. The civic engagement and voter participation theme will imbue all of the convention activities. Our ability to mobilize for the 2018 midterms, the 2020 census and presidential election, and the subsequent redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts will define the policy landscape — and our daily realities — for years to come.

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP, America’s largest civil rights organization. Follow him on Twitter @DerrickNAACP.