The head of the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization, fearing a loss of momentum since the 2008 election, plans to use the group’s annual convention to get people “off the couch” and renergized to fight back against a tea party movement that opposes much of President Barack Obama’s agenda.
The NAACP convention, set to start Saturday, also will focus on education and the mounting jobs losses that have disproportionately affected minorities. Headliners will include First Lady Michelle Obama and the Revs. Jesse L. Jackson and Al Sharpton.
“We have to close the enthusiasm gap and remind people that the majority that existed two years ago still exists today,” said Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in a phone interview.
Since the presidential election, the tea party has emerged, espousing a political philosophy of less government, a free market, lower taxes, individual rights and political activism.
To Jealous, the movement is pushing the country backward. He said that when people “get hit in the pocketbook, they start looking for scapegoats, and they start tearing the country apart.” What is crucial, he said, is to talk about issues that unite the United States.
“The danger of the tea party is that people see them and think about periods in history when groups like them were much more powerful than they are now,” he said. “And so a lot of what we spend energy doing is explaining to people what reality is, and that the reality is that the majority from 2008 still exists. It went no where but back on the couch, and our biggest challenge is to get it back off the couch and back to the streets and back on the battlefield.”
Beyond increased activism, Jealous said the top short-term goal is jobs. The convention, which will take place in Kansas City and goes through Thursday, will include a session on green jobs, and speakers will talk about how the BP oil spill is affecting several disenfranchised communities, including Vietnamese, American Indian and black fishermen and oil workers.
“Nothing happens unless people get back to work,” Jealous said. “We don’t have money for schools. We don’t have money to pay mortgages with, so jobs are key.”