Voting Rights addressed by President Obama at NAN
By Herb Boyd
Special to Our Time Press
It was fairly easy to predict what theme President Obama would choose for his keynote address last Friday at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention at the Sheraton Hotel. Given that this is the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act and that the president had the day before in Austin paid tribute to President Johnson, the more informed reporters at the event knew that civil and voting rights would be the focus.
Obama’s speech in Austin was a kind of dress rehearsal for his remarks at the convention, though it was clearly altered somewhat to emphasis voting rights; his acknowledgment of the large contingent of African Americans in the audience.
A resounding introduction by the Rev. Al Sharpton, NAN’s president, deemed Obama a “president of action,” and the nation’s leader wasted no time warming to his topic.
As is his wont, he began with a bit of levity, noting that it hadn’t spoken at NAN since 2011 “and there have been a number of changes since then. My hair is grayer…but what has not changed is my concern for civil rights for everybody.”
The crowd roared back and the love fest was on.
“You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore,” he began, noting Americans’ right to vote, “but the stark simple truth is this: the right to vote is threatened in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became the law nearly five decades ago.”
For several minutes he dwelled on this issue, illustrating how the voting rights many had been taking for granted for years is now under assault by Republicans with their tactics to suppress the vote. He expressed his disgust at the demands on voters for ID, the move to eliminate early and Sunday voting, and other means to minimize people’s rights to vote.
He said the Republicans often cite voter fraud for the reason to administer all these safeguards. “But out of 197 million votes in the last national election there were only 40 cases of voter fraud,” he explained. “That’s something like 000002 percent. The real voting fraud is those who deny our right to vote.”
The Republicans demand for undue documentation at the voting booths drew laughter when he recalled his encounter with naysayers about his birth certificate. “Just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don’t…You remember that? That was some crazy stuff.”
With an eye toward the coming midterm elections, President Obama underscored the need for people to register to vote, particularly the young people. He said the next election, two years from now, “will be one of the most important in years” because it could mean the Republican control of Congress. Obama could have gone further and noted the devastation on civil rights by the Supreme Court.
Toward the end of his relatively short speech, Obama evoked memories of the civil rights movement, the Freedom Summer, and the martyrs James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman who were killed in Mississippi 50 years ago. “They laid down their lives for us, at least you can stand up for your rights,” Obama concluded, a wave of applause followed him as he left the stage to mingle with the crowd.