Julian Bond blasted the war in Iraq and conservative attacks on voting rights, yet the NAACP’s chairman Sunday also urged President Bush to attend the civil rights group’s annual convention.
“This year the convention has come to the president and we hope and pray he is coming to us,” said Bond, speaking about a mile from the White House at the city’s convention center.
Bush has avoided the conventions since taking office in 2001, making him the first sitting president in decades not to have spoken to the group. His schedule for Wednesday lists an event with the notation “TBA,” or to be announced.
Bond said Bush’s presence would show that he hears the concerns of African-Americans. “We have values, we vote our values, and we demand to be valued in return,” he said.
More than 2000 gathered for Bond’s hour-long keynote speech, which kicked off the 97th convention of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Bond urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, condemned attacks on school integration and said the war in Iraq “has weakened rather than strengthened America’s defenses, including our levees.”
He added, “Our troops may be fighting to secure democracy abroad, but we can’t secure our democracy at home.”
Voting irregularities and biased laws still hit minorities hardest, said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting Democratic delegate to the House of Representatives.
“The United States has a ways to go before a black or brown voter has nothing to worry about when he or she goes to the polls,” she said.
“We might call it voting while black,” said Bond.
He called on lawmakers to renew expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act. The House voted last week to renew it, but the Senate has yet to act. NAACP members planned to lobby for the legislation on Wednesday.
Bond criticized Republicans for being unethical and said “some of the Democrats won’t take their own side in a fight.”
His frustrated tone reflected the diminished status of the NAACP and other civil rights groups at a time when conservatives dominate Washington and public policy tackling racial discrimination is being dismantled.
The six-day convention also will include analysis of how well industries serve minority communities. Since 1997, the NAACP has graded banks, phone companies, hotels and other companies, and the latest report cards are slated to be released on Monday.