Staying focused

April 18, 2014

Rev. Al Sharpton
National Action Network

Distraction is nothing new. On the road to progress and justice, obstruction is expected. Throughout history, when people push for change, they are routinely attacked, ridiculed and criticized. Not even the President of the United States is exempt from distractors, nor is the attorney general. Last week at National Action Network’s (NAN) 16th annual convention — where both President Obama and AG Holder addressed folks from around the nation — Holder made a very similar argument. He asked what other attorney general or president had to deal with the sort of vitriol and disrespect that they have had to deal with? The answer is none. But if there’s any conclusion that was reached during our convention — which brought together civil rights leaders, clergy members, elected officials, families of victims of gun violence, community advocates and more — it’s that we cannot cease our efforts. We can’t stop and won’t stop. Though the dynamics may be different, our work is as vital today as it ever was. And to those who attempt to take attention away from the cause of justice, I have news for you: nice try, but we’re as energized as we ever were.
Every year, folks gather for NAN’s convention to assess our state of affairs: the progress we’ve made and the work that remains ahead. Following our 16th convention last week, we’ve outlined three key items that we must address immediately — protecting and preserving our right to vote, tackling unemployment and inequality, and dealing with state nullification laws like stand-your-ground.
“Voting is a time when we all have an equal say — black or white, rich or poor, man or woman,” said President Obama as he addressed a packed audience at the convention on Friday afternoon. “In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our democracy, we’re all supposed to have that equal right to cast our ballot to help determine the direction of our society … But the stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.”
The president is 100 percent correct. In dozens of states around the country, there are laws that now severely limit and/or disenfranchise the votes of people of color, the poor and other groups. From strict new voter ID laws to a reduction in early voting days and more, these regulations have been popping up over the last few years with the clear intent of keeping people from participating in the election process. Because so many Americans voted in the ’08 and ’12 elections, many so-called leaders in states from coast-to-coast pushed for these laws. They know that people have the power and the numbers to elect who they deem appropriate — and that scares many who would like to maintain the status quo. During a year when so much is on the line, we must reverse and repeal these egregious laws.
As we continue down the road to justice, we must not ignore the plight of those who are less fortunate among us. While the economy has vastly improved since the Great Recession of ’08, unemployment and under-employment remain far too high — especially among Blacks and Latinos. Numbers simply don’t lie, and the unemployment rate within certain communities is nearly double that of other segments of the population. That is just inexcusable. Economic inequality translates to educational inequality, housing inequality, health inequality and the list goes on. Taking concrete measures like raising the minimum wage, passing a jobs bill, extending