By Acting NAACP-NVF President Peter Graham Cohn, Esq.
Published in the Sun Reporter Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Area and revised for NAACP-NVF Distribution
Date: October 6, 2016 and Last Revised October 20, 2016
The African American, Latino American, Asian American, Native American, LGBT, Women and Civil Rights communities as well as all people of good will from every generation should be fully engaged in this historic election to protect the very integrity and future of America. The late Julian Bond always had the brilliant and wonderful capacity to bring us all together in common cause and he underscored the importance of our civic duty to honor – by voting – all those who suffered and died for the voting franchise. In response to those that would suggest a major divide between the older generation and the millennials or the young, Julian would always dispel this myth and remind us that there has been an historic integration of the young within the civil rights movement and that each generation plays a pivotal role and complements one another in making our democracy work.
These reflections were brought home poignantly earlier this month at the funeral service at historic Third Baptist Church in San Francisco for Nathaniel Mason – the San Francisco NAACP President from 2001-2004. The life of President Mason was eloquently eulogized by a number of young millennial leaders in San Francisco including London Breed – President of the Board of Supervisors, Shamann Walton – Member of the San Francisco Board of Education, and Shawn Richards – Youth Organizer as well as other community leaders across generations. Everyone underscored how the 87 year old Mr. Mason had helped and touched them at critical coming of age times in their lives and made life better for many others in our community from every background. Their joint voices clearly dispelled any suggestion that there is a generation divide across our communities.
In light of this, we should do our part to further dispel the myth – promoted by the corporate media of the right and the left – that we are divided communities that cannot find common cause in the upcoming election. As a community and people of good will, we clearly remember what was promised by certain Republican leaders at a meeting on the very day of the January 2009 inauguration ceremony – congressional governmental obstruction to prevent the first African American President from being successful.
As the first Monday in October of 2016 has come upon us this week, we should normally expect to observe the much anticipated opening of a fully functional United States Supreme Court with 9 Justices. But, instead, we see true to form and promise governmental obstruction adversely affecting our Nation’s highest court caused by the Republican Senate leadership and members’ refusal to meet with or hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Court created by the death of Justice Scalia early this year. With only 8 Justices on the Supreme Court, these actions have effectively interfered with the Court’s final decision making capacity now for two terms. This is the Court whose very purpose, among others, is to protect individual rights and liberties from the excesses or misconduct of the legislature, the executive or the masses.
Because we have not known of this level of interference with the Court since before the Civil War, this election has historic implication for those who believe in the Civil War Amendments to our United States Constitution – the 13th Amendment – abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude, the 14th Amendment – guaranteeing equal protection and due process as well as birth right citizenship, and the 15th Amendment – guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote.
The futures of all of us and our youth are on the line in this election. In the Presidential election and down ballot campaigns, there are clear choices between those candidates who favor “racial profiling,” “stop and frisk,” “aggressive policing,” “mass incarceration,” “mass deportations,” “racial, religious and cultural intolerance,” “marriage inequality,” “governmental control of women’s bodies,” “voter suppression” and “repealing the Affordable Care Act” and those who courageously oppose all of these backward initiatives as un-American and unconstitutional policies. There can be no question that all of these constitutional, legislative and judicial issues are actively in play in this election.
We have to be prepared to stand up to the false equivalency arguments or narratives that suggest there is really no difference between the candidates at the top of the ticket or down ballot or that it really doesn’t matter if we vote. It profoundly matters whether we register and vote. Our lives and the futures of our children, grandchildren and our country depend upon it.
We also have to dispel the myth that by voting for a 3rd or 4th party or write-in candidates in this election is the best way to register a protest vote. The issues are far too serious for that. Moreover, we have our own recent electoral history in 2000 that should help to inform our actions in this election. The protest vote led by Ralph Nader’s Green Party in Florida, in addition to the voter suppression mechanisms there, made the actual difference in giving Florida and the overall election to the very President who lost the popular vote and then subsequently led us into the Middle East Wars. And, consider who paid the profoundly disproportionate price – young people of color and the poor of our country as well as the indigenous innocents within the various countries where the wars were fought. The lesson of history then and now is that we do not have the option to unwittingly engage in either voter suppression mechanisms of throwing our vote away or simply not engaging in this election. We have affirmative duties to protect those who will suffer the most and the most vulnerable, and to not fail to actively engage in this critical election.
So let’s agree to disappoint those who would suppress our vote by having a full court press to engage and mobilize everyone who will be 18 before the upcoming November 8 election. The deadline for voter registration in Nevada was October 18, 2016. We should not forget anyone whether they are high school seniors or students who have gone off to college or neighbors that have recently moved. As we gather for October events, this is the perfect time to reach out to those on campuses, churches, other civic gathering places and through social media for active get out the vote initiatives (GOTV). Most importantly, Nevada has early voting beginning on October 22nd through November 4th; let’s get all our good souls to the polls. Let’s make history together this election cycle as we did in 2008 and 2012.
In sum, achieving a more perfect, representative and inclusive union is within our reach in this election at the federal, state and local levels. It is at each of these levels that we put into office persons who are committed to civil rights and who can actually secure equity and fairness in every aspect of government and in creating a more participatory democracy. Our challenge today is whether we will answer the call of the martyrs by affirmatively engaging across generations in voter engagement and mobilization through early voting and election-day turnout. Let’s make history together in this final push to the November 8, 2016 election day.
Attorney Peter Graham Cohn is a civil rights attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the Acting President of the NAACP National Voter Fund. Attorney Cohn’s Office is located at 315 Keokuk Street, Petaluma, CA 94952; Telephone: 707-778-6945; Fax: 707-778-6945; and Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.