Marchers Seek to Delay New Orleans Vote

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton lead the march.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton were among those who organized the march. Jeff Brady, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Brady, NPR

Several thousand people turn out in New Orleans for a march and rally led by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and others. They want a delay in local elections. Many New Orleans residents remain in far-off cities, displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm John Ydstie. Debbie Elliot is away. Several thousand people turn out in New Orleans today for what the Reverend Jesse Jackson called the most important civil rights march in a generation. Jackson and other civil rights leaders fear that many African-Americans, evacuated after Hurricane Katrina, won't be able to vote in upcoming local elections. NPR's Jeff Brady has this report.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

Leaders in the African-American community have been pushing for weeks to delay the election for mayor and other city offices that's scheduled for April 22nd. They say the state hasn't done enough to help far-flung evacuees vote. But their efforts have met with little success. Around the city, it's clear campaigning is still underway with nearly two dozen people running for mayor. Jesse Jackson says that's why organizers turn to a historically significant protest tactic. A march.

Rev. JESSE JACKSON (Civil Rights Activist): We've never lost a battle that we've marched for. We've really never won one we didn't march for. And people are awakened and their consciousness is touched. They're thinking about what they can do. Everybody can march. And when we march we change the national debate.

BRADY: Jackson wants the state of Louisiana to set up voting booths in cities with large evacuee populations such as Houston and Memphis. The state, instead, has decided to rely on mail-in ballots. Last week, a few state lawmakers tried to pass legislation that would have required polling places out of state. The measure was voted down, but lawmakers plan to try again this week.

Rev. AL SHARPTON (Civil Rights Activist): So we can come to the city we made great.

BRADY: The Reverend Al Sharpton warmed up the crowd, but most were waiting for comedian Bill Cosby. He talked about fixing problems in the black community and he proposed a creative solution to the voting issue.

Mr. BILL COSBY (Actor, Comedian): If there's no voting booth, then you build one. And you line black people and white people and Asian people, line them all up and they come in and you're counting votes. All right, you vote, who do you want, and we wrote it down. And they say, what are you doing? Say, we have a voting booth here.

(Soundbite of jazz band)

BRADY: After the rally, a jazz band led the march up a freeway ramp to the bridge from downtown New Orleans and across the Mississippi River. This was the same bridge that Viola Washington and others used after the hurricane to escape flooding in New Orleans. Back then, they were stopped. Washington says police officers told them they couldn't seek refuge in the mostly white neighborhood.

Ms. VIOLA WASHINGTON (Hurricane Survivor): We couldn't go back the other way, we had to get out of this city. And that's how we were treated and that's why the march is here so we'll be able to march on this bridge.

BRADY: While protestors did march over the bridge today, it's not clear their demands for the upcoming election will be met. Jesse Jackson says if they aren't, there will be lawsuits challenging the election afterwards. Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.

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