NAACP Hopes March Will Empower Black Voters

The NAACP hosts a rally this weekend in Washington D.C. with hundreds of other organizations. They're trying to promote good jobs, education and greater equality for black voters. NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous talks to Steve Inskeep about the march, midterm elections and the tea party.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Democrats also relied on a strong black vote in 2008. Their challenge in 2010 is to bring minority voters back to the polls. This weekend, the NAACP and many other groups are hosting a rally in Washington.

Benjamin Jealous of the NAAP acknowledges some voters may be discouraged.

Mr. BENJAMIN JEALOUS (NAACP): The reality is that it's been exhausting for people to push, push, push, push, push, and yet we have got to understand our job doesnt change after somebody get's into office. We, you know, we're the one who made that change and we're the one who will make the changes in how are society is governed.

INSKEEP: Do you think that President Obama is going to be able to draw black voters and other minority voters to the polls in the large numbers that he was able to do when he was actually on the ballot in 2008?

Mr. JEALOUS: What's clear to me is that getting ourselves to the poll is truly up to us. A lot of folks who have invested in encouraging massive voter turnout - black voters, brown voters, students, working class whites - for whatever reason are not investing in it right now. And so what you've seen, as I, you know, travel - I've probably spoken to 20 churches in the last several weeks, and what you see pastors doing is exhorting their folks to understand that this is really their responsibility, that they've got to get out there, they've got to knock on doors, they've got to understand if the civil rights agenda gets run over in this election, if the human rights agenda gets run over in this election, if the focus on solving tough problems for working families like health care and the need to, you know, extend unemployment benefits gets thrown out the window, times are going to get worse.

INSKEEP: But what in concrete terms is the NAACP doing to get your supporters to the polls in greater numbers in November?

Mr. JEALOUS: We have targeted several states to push out black voter turnout. We're looking at people, you know, who voted in three of the last five elections and might miss a midterm and targeting them and saying you've got to turn out to vote.

INSKEEP: Now, that's interesting. You don't need to worry about the people who voted in five out of five, but the people who voted in three out of five, you want to make sure they show up for this one?

Mr. JEALOUS: Yeah, 'cause if you voted in five out of five, you're going to show up.

INSKEEP: Uh-huh.

Mr. JEALOUS: There's the NAACP in 1,200 communities spending weekends, you know, teaching kids the way I was taught when I was 14. That's how I got into this, was NAACP activists told me when I was 14 you need to go register 1,000 voters and I, you know, pulled together a few friends and we went and did it.

INSKEEP: Is it inevitable that you're just not going to have as high of rate of participation as you did in 2008 with the first black president, serious black presidential candidate on the ballot?

Mr. JEALOUS: The reality is that in mid-term elections you see a drop-off across the board. How big this drop-off is going to be, I'm not sure. What I know is that my responsibility and the responsibility of civil rights leaders in the country is to ensure that whoever is in Congress, there is a fight for what is most important. And right now what is most important is jobs, good jobs, schools, great schools, and justice for all people in this country. We have - look - you know, we are a country that believes we are capable of solving some of the toughest problems in the world. We should be able to deal with comprehensive immigration reform and the need to fix our broken immigration system. We should be able to get all of the cops in this country to focus on what people do and not what they look like. But we have to, we have to figure out how we get our people back to work.

INSKEEP: Is it tough in practical terms, at a time of difficult economic times for an awful lot of people, to knock on doors and say, look, I know you're frustrated, I know you want to throw the bums out, but I need you to vote for the incumbent?

Mr. JEALOUS: Not at all, not at all. You know, I mean somebody said to me the other day, look, man, if I show up to this rally, if I go out - if I turn out and vote, will I get a job? I said, well, you know what? What I can guarantee you is that it will harder for you to find one if you don't.

INSKEEP: Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, thanks for coming by.

Mr. JEALOUS: Thank you very much, Steve.

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