In his appearance at a local banquet Friday, the national president of the NAACP was clear: The organization enjoyed political victories this year, but the fight is far from over.
"The black vote saved the day for President [Barack] Obama," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the organization's CEO and president, with motivated voters who not only registered, but showed up to vote Nov. 6. "That's why enthusiasm is so important. Enthusiasm means you're off the couch." That enthusiasm translated into big wins for the president in critical swing states, such as Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania.
"You cannot explain what happened in Pennsylvania without talking about the surge in enthusiasm of the black vote," he said.
"It's been a great week," agreed John W. Jordan, director of civic engagement for the Pennsylvania National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We had record numbers in Philadelphia County and Allegheny County, and we had close to 500,000 voters come out in Philadelphia."
Mr. Jealous, who was the keynote speaker at the 78th annual NAACP Pennsylvania State Convention Freedom Fund banquet, held Friday evening at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in North Strabane, said the black vote will "be in play in 2016."
"According to our polls, as soon as Obama is off the ticket, enthusiasm drops 20 percent. Voter engagement, therefore, and voter turnout drop 20 percent," Mr. Jealous said. "Why? Because our people know the Democratic Party has taken them for granted for too long, and the Democratic Party can't afford to get cocky right now."
Mr. Jealous, who at 39 is the youngest leader of the 102-year-old organization, also was critical of Democrats for increased poverty rates nationwide, the war on drugs, which he labeled "the war on drug addicts," and schools that are underperforming and becoming more segregated despite the advances of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
"If you want to make sure that the black community is as enthusiastic in 2016 and 2020, then you better come up with some solutions for the problems that have been our situation for generations," he said to the group of about 100 state and local representatives who attended the banquet.
Republicans have been seen as largely tone deaf in national elections, he said, after they "bashed" immigrants, black people, women, the LGBT -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender -- community and organized labor.
"If you're going to succeed democratically in America today, you've got to be prepared to get along demographically with at least one other group," Mr. Jealous said.
Across the nation, the NAACP scored a historic victory in registering new voters, he said.
"We registered 432,000 people from coast to coast," he said.
Mr. Jealous told the group that there was much more work to do in the coming months, including organizing support for Mr. Obama's tax policy, defeating voter ID laws, health care initiatives and other issues.
"We must make sure that we defend universal access to health care in this country -- we must defend Obamacare," he said. "We have to make sure that home ownership remains a piece of the American dream."
But most importantly to black voters, according to internal polls, was creating jobs, Mr. Jealous said.
"We have to get focused on jobs," he said. "For us at the NAACP, we must be clear that ending discrimination in employment is as important as job creation."
Members must also mobilize their efforts to "defend the dignity" of Hispanics, members of the LGBT community and other minorities, he said.
"Our destiny is to be the greatest example of human unity that the world has ever seen," he said. "That is the work of the NAACP."
Mr. Jordan, who as state NAACP official organized the group's opposition efforts to the proposed statewide voter ID law and led rallies in September while the law was being considered by the state Supreme Court, said getting the new law delayed was a crucial step.
"It was very important because we always felt the law was passed to disenfranchise the largest voter groups from 2008, which include women, seniors and students," said Mr. Jordan, who traveled to the conference from his home in Corydon, near Philadelphia. "To have everyone vote freely and without restriction was huge."
Now, the push is on from the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civic groups to permanently defeat the new law -- which would require voters to show photo ID at the polls beginning next year.
"We view it as a poll tax," said Jerome Mondesire, the president of the state NAACP conference, who said the organization is gearing up to reverse the law. If the group loses, it will appeal as far as it can -- perhaps even to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.
"We're not going to go to sleep on the voter ID issue," said Mr. Mondesire, a newspaper publisher from Philadelphia. "It's too critical."
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