By Benjamin Todd
Thursday, November 21, 2013.
Two decades ago, as a young
organizer in Mississippi, I learned that there are only two types of temporal
power: organized people and organized money. I also learned that in a
democracy, the people can win every time - but only if we are organized.
Today, when I reflect back on my half-decade at the helm of the NAACP, I am
deeply proud of what we have accomplished together as we organized our
communities. We have abolished the death policy in five states, defended voting
rights from coast to coast, freed multiple wrongfully incarcerated people, and
shrunk prison systems. We have increased funding for health care, defended the
rights of workers, held wayward mortgage companies accountable and curbed the
school-to prison-pipeline in multiple states. We have built powerful bridges to
help faith communities join the struggle for marriage equality and against the
scourge of HIV, and come to the aid of our allies in the struggles for
environmental protection and immigrants’ rights. Through all this, we have
dramatically expanded the ranks of those who would assist us in combating
racial discrimination in the streets and at the ballot box.
Five years ago, the NAACP was what it had been for most of the past half
century; the biggest civil rights organization in the streets. Today, we are
that and also the biggest online, on mobile and at the ballot box as well.
All of this success is testament to the power of our shared vision and
partnership to come together for a stronger, more inclusive America.
Things could have gone a different way. Since 2010, far-right wing
extremists have repeatedly and simultaneously attacked the most basic civil
rights protections of most Americans. They've attacked women's rights,
affirmative action, workers’ rights, immigration, LGBT equality, food security,
health care, and even our right to drink clean water and breathe clean air. One
has to wonder whether their decision to attack all of us all at once was
motivated by mere greed or by an even more devious design to ensure that we would
Balkanize as we each retreated into a defensive posture.
However, together, we chose the courageous path. We have marched forward
arm in arm, repeatedly embracing the motto of the three musketeers: all for
one, and one for all. As a result: we have passed powerful antiracial profiling
legislation in New York City and even abolished the death penalty in Maryland
with the help of leaders in the LGBT community; passed marriage equality bills
from coast to coast with increased support from faith leaders and communities
of color; and most recently we have built a powerful defense-and offense-for
voting rights by pulling the entire progressive family together in ways
incomparable in recent memory. Occasionally, we have even picked up new
conservative friends and allies.
Today, as I prepare to leave my position at the NAACP, I am confident that
there is a bright future for both the Association and the larger civil and
human rights struggle.
We may have started this century like we started the last: fighting
assaults on our voting rights and pushing back against attacks on our most
basic civil and human rights. Nonetheless, this time we have a distinct
advantage. We know that no matter what happens in the courts, every year our
ability to defend and expand civil and human rights protections at the ballot
box, in statehouses and on city councils will increase. Moreover, as
organizers, we understand that while the future will come no matter what, we
have the power to make the future come faster.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is the outgoing president and CEO of the national NAACP.