Huma Khan, ABC News, July 12, 2010
First Lady Michelle Obama brought renewed energy to the NAACP today, delivering the keynote speech at the annual convention one day before the nation’s largest civil rights group is expected to condemn what it calls racist elements in the Tea Party movement.
In her speech, the first lady focused on the issue of childhood obesity and her “Let’s Move” initiative, but outside of her remarks, anti-Tea Party activism has been a key focus of the gathering, which conservative leaders say is driven solely by a political agenda.
Tea Party members have used “racial epithets,” have verbally abused black members of Congress and threatened them, and protestors have engaged in “explicitly racist behavior” and “displayed signs and posters intended to degrade people of color generally and President Barack Obama specifically,” according to the proposed resolution.
“We’re deeply concerned about elements that are trying to move the country back, trying to reverse progress that we’ve made,” NAACP spokeswoman Leila McDowell told ABC News. “We are asking that the law-abiding members of the Tea Party repudiate those racist elements, that they recognize the historic and present racist elements that are within the Tea Party movement.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in coordination with 170 other groups, including labor unions, is planning a protest march in Washington, D.C., Oct. 10 as the next step in building momentum against the Tea Party.
“We see it as a threat to democracy. We see it as a threat to human rights. We certainly see it as a threat to civil rights,” McDowell said, adding that the resolution will likely pass when it’s voted upon Tuesday.
The Rev. C.L. Bryant, a former president of NAACP’s Garland, Texas, chapter who is now a leading Tea Party activist said the idea that the Tea Party is racist or is trying to instigate a racist climate is “simply a lie.”
“I have seen posters . . . where every president from Reagan to Obama has been called a fascist,” Bryant, who serves as a contributor to FreedomWorks, which organizes Tea Party groups, told ABC News. “Why is it that just because we have a black president, we are hyper-sensitive to posters at rallies?”
The NAACP wants to “create a climate where they can say that those on the right are in fact racist and those on the left are their saviors,” he added. “This is very much what the liberal agenda is about.”
NAACP Takes on Tea Party Movement
Twenty-seven percent of Americans support the Tea Party, according to a May ABC News/Washington Post poll, but nearly as many Americans oppose the movement as those who support it.
Among registered voters, 15 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate for Congress who’s associated with the Tea Party movement, but 24 percent say they’d be more apt to oppose such a candidate.
The poll also found that 57 percent of people who opposed the Tea Party suspected its members of racial prejudice specifically against Obama. Only 10 percent of Tea Party supporters expressed such a sentiment.
NAACP leaders have individually taken on the Tea Party in the past, but the organization is now trying to build a bigger momentum against the Tea Party, which has emerged as a strong grassroots, albeit fragmented, force across the country.
“We have to close the enthusiasm gap,” NAACP president Ben Jealous said in an interview with the Associated Press Friday. “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, 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.”