Barack Obama at NAN’s annual convention with Rev. Sharpton
President Barack Obama yesterday said the best way for people to protect the franchise from Republican attempts to create obstacles with new rules and regulations is to actually vote.
Obama said if all eligible voters showed up to the polls it would outweigh and exceed all those who could be prevented from voting as a result of the Republicans’ schemes.
As the nation heads towards the mid-term elections, the president called for mobilization for national voter registration drive and said organizations such as The National Action Network (NAN) can spearhead the campaign.
Obama recalled the many Americans who marched for civil rights and voting rights in the 1960s with some paying the ultimate price — he specifically offered the examples of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered in 1964 while trying to register voters in Mississippi. The least people can do today was to vote in memory of their sacrifice.
Obama spoke at the National Action Network’s annual convention and was introduced as the “action president” to thunderous applause by Rev. Al Sharpton, NAN’s founder and president.
“No president in the last 50 years has shown more action around protecting the rights of ordinary citizens and the civil rights of people denied than our action president Barack Obama,” Rev. Sharpton said.
Obama’s speech was energetic and mixed seriousness with a good dose of humor and barbs-poking at the Republican party.
Obama noted some of his administration’s successes over the last five years, including: the creation of nine million new jobs; the signing up for the Affordable Care Act insurance coverage by 7.5 million Americans; children maintaining coverage by being eligible to stay on their parents policies; coverage of pre-existing conditions; additional coverage for millions more through expanded Medicaid; and, record High School graduation rates.
The president cautioned that nonetheless too many Americans, Black and White, and in urban and rural areas remain “trapped in pockets of poverty.”
He spoke about the meaning of “opportunity” for all and said it includes “changing the odds for all our children through pre-K” education and he praised New York’s $300 million per year program under new mayor Bill de Blasio.
Opportunity means helping “young boys and young men of color” stay on the right path, Obama said, through programs such as “My Brother’s Keeper” which was launched at the White House on February 27.
He noted that a Texas minister Freddie Haynes was so inspired by the program that he told him he planned to create 100 jobs for young people this summer.
Obama said opportunity means increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 nationally, to ensuring that women and men earn the equal amount for the same work, and that people are paid for their overtime work.
The president’s speech focused on denouncing the Republicans’ attempts to restrict voting rights across the country with various types of voter ID requirement laws and other restrictions.
“What kind of political platform is that?” he asked, referring to the Republicans’ strategy to constrict the vote. He also quoted a Republican lawmaker who said voter restriction was “not a goodway to attract more people” to the party, an oft-stated Republican Party goal.
“That’s not a sign of strength — that’s a sign of weakness,” the president noted.
The president said some Republican lawmakers weren’t shy about openly stating that voter suppression would help them win elections — an apparent reference to a Pennsylvania House Republican, Mike Turzai, who in 2012 said it would help Mitt Romney carry the state and win the White House.
Obama vowed that his administration, under Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice would fight all attempts to present obstacles to eligible voters.
“Justice requires the right to vote,” Obama said, and added, “You would think that there would not be argument over this anymore.”
Yet some of the laws being enacted would even deprive senior citizens from the poll, even though they’d been voting for decades and didn’t have updated IDs, the president pointed out. He also noted that about 60% of Americans didn’t have passports and some couldn’t afford to travel — yet it didn’t mean they should be deprived of their right to vote.
“And just to be clear I know where my birth certificate is,” Obama said at one point, bringing down the packed house, a ballroom at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, as he poked fun at the Birthers. “You remember that? That was crazy.”
The President called on Congress to update the Voting Rights Acts, which was severely compromised last year when the Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the law.
At the beginning of the presentation Obama acknowledged leading politicians in the audience, including members of Congress, and gave props to Barbara Arnwine, the President and Executive Director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, as well as Marc Morial, President and Executive Director of the National Urban League.