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What the media missed at the NAACP: Romney boos way overblown, voter suppression way underplayed

What the media missed at the NAACP: Romney boos way overblown, voter suppression way underplayed

Mitt Romney, NAACP conference, July 2012
The reaction to Mitt Romney at the NAACP wasn't as bad as many in the media made it seem, in this attendee's view. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Joe Biden, NAACP Conference, July 2012
What got lost in at the NAACP was that giant hand behind the stage — the crucial voter rights issue. Photo by Whitney Radley
Mitt Romney, NAACP conference, July 2012
Joe Biden, NAACP Conference, July 2012

The theme of the 2012 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Annual Convention was: “NAACP: Your Power, Your Decision, Vote!” That theme was heard and felt throughout last week's six-day gathering in Houston of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

It is clearly an election year, and the concern for voting rights is one of the NAACP’s Game Changers.

The NAACP focused on its 21st Century Game Changers: Five long-term goals that go to the very heart of the organizations’ mission. These game changers — Economic Sustainability, Education, Equitable Health Access, Public Safety and Criminal Justice, Voting Rights and Fair Representation — have a platform that centers on access to the ballot box and voting rights. As I walked the floors of the convention and talked to attendees from around the nation, without a doubt, voting rights and fears of voter suppression was at the forefront of most people’s minds.

 One of the things I found really interesting about the media coverage of the convention and Romney’s speech in particular were the headlines that said he was booed. 

There were political speeches from both the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden as well as speeches from Julian Bond, the NAACP board chairman emeritus and other corporate and civic leaders. Yes it is an election year and there was plenty of election rhetoric. Campaign speak if you will . . . but it was also about more than that.

Most attendees realized Romney’s speech was far less about them than his base or the independent and swing voters he hopes to win over. Biden was as he said “preaching to the choir,” thus energizing a group that overwhelmingly supports President Obama.

One of the things I found really interesting about the media coverage of the convention and Romney’s speech in particular were the headlines that said he was booed. Few reported that the audience applauded politely from time to time and gave him an ovation at the end. Most members said it was because he was respectful enough to show up.

The fact is most people attending the NAACP convention don’t believe Romney’s platform will be good for the nation as a whole — particularly for people of color or lesser economic wherewithal.

I listened to an interview last week where a national morning show host commented on Biden’s voter suppression remarks: “This isn’t 1963.” That’s as if to say we’re beyond those times or that we’re living in a post-racial society.

To both comments, I say look around. Feel the tone and tension of the rhetoric from the far sides of the middle. If you’re one of the people wondering or questioning why we even need the NAACP in 2012, don’t be bamboozled. The need for a civil rights organization is as prevalent now as ever.

During an opening news conference, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee showed a picture of the electoral map. “Red states represent those who have introduced legislation for voter suppression,” she said. “The NAACP is fighting for everyone’s right to vote.”

 If you’re one of the people wondering or questioning why we even need the NAACP in 2012, don’t be bamboozled. 

Leon Russell, vice chairman of the NAACP board of directors added: “The effort to suppress the vote is not a new thing, but what we’ve seen in the last two years is. This is one of the most important elections that we will ever hold. It will tell us whether or not this will be an inclusive nation.”

Biden talked about the importance of civil rights during his speech while Romney didn’t broach the subject head on. The NAACP wants to make sure that civil rights laws are enforced. And by civil rights that includes rights for everyone, not just African-Americans. Congressman Al Green said, “We’re here to plan how to meet the challenge.

"We have to ensure the constitution is applicable and includes all people of the U.S. we’re not here in a partisan fashion. Every American must be granted the opportunity to vote without suppression.”

So when I’m asked what the big takeaway from NAACP was, it keeps coming back to voting rights and the necessity and importance of a civil and human rights advocate for all Americans. NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous summed it up this way: “We must focus on defending our democracy because for 103 years we at the NAACP have focused on pushing America toward that great providence described by Frederick Douglass in his speech against the Chinese Exclusion Act — in a speech called “Our Composite Nationality" — in which he said the destiny of America is to be the greatest example of human unity the world has ever seen.”

Kim Davis is a seasoned journalist with nearly two decades of experience covering sports, news and politics in television, radio and print. She’s a talk show host, keynote speaker, media coach, entrepreneur and health and fitness enthusiast. If you have questions or comments for Kim or about “Chalk Talk”, you can reach her at kim@thekdcompany.com.