National Urban League Encourages Black Voter Mobilization at Town Hall

Civil rights organizations and activists came together in an effort to increase awareness about recent voting laws presenting challenges to people of color during a forum on Howard University’s campus.

“We are in the largest voting rights assault since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Melanie Campbell, President of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, during the National Urban League’s State of Black America town hall Wednesday evening.

According to the Urban League, the challenges making it difficult for people to vote include discriminatory ID requirements, arbitrary registration deadlines and limited voting hours.

During the town hall meeting, “Occupy The Vote To Educate, Employ and Empower,” the Urban League released its 2012 State of Black America Report, which includes messages on black voter awareness, education reform and community empowerment.

“Voting and civic participation is essential if we are to have a voice in education policy, college affordability, fixing our schools, early childhood education, and if we’re going to have a voice in jobs policy, whether we invest in infrastructure, whether we target urban communities,” said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the Urban League. “Our voice comes because we participate civically, so we have to occupy the vote.”

The Urban League has been releasing State of Black America reports annually since 1976 and began holding release events for the reports in 2004. Morial said the report combines 300 data sets and that the organization’s chief economist, director of research, a small staff at the Urban League Policy Institute in D.C. and an outside econometrics firm worked to collect all of the data for the report.

This was the organization’s second time releasing the report at Howard. Last year, their town hall discussion “Jobs Rebuild America: Putting Urban America Back to Work” included talks about economic recovery and the future of American jobs.

“I think one of the most important elements of last year’s State of Black America and our 12-point jobs plan is that President Obama included several provisions from our jobs plan in his American Jobs Act, so we had an impact on policy makers at the top level,” Morial said. “Second is the state like Ohio, where you had several state legislators who introduced the Ohio Jobs Bill, and that bill was mirrored off of some ideas in our 12-point jobs bill.”

The recent report features an eight-point plan, which stresses the importance of equalizing school funding to close achievement gaps, expanding access to early childhood education and the continued need to expand the quality and compensation for teachers.

Morial said by releasing these annual reports the Urban League seeks to influence the thinking, the policy and the ideas that members of Congress, state legislatures, mayors and local government and officials undertake.

Journalist Jeff Johnson served as floor moderator during a panel discussion, which featured associate professor and chair of the Afro-American studies department at Howard Dr. Gregory Carr, activist and writer Kevin Powell and radio host Warren Ballentine.

Ballentine spoke about the perception of wealth in the black community and encouraged wiser spending, while Dr. Carr spoke about younger generations and the influence of technology on literacy.

During one of his opening messages, Morial stated that Vernon Jordan, former Urban league president and Howard alumnus, came to the conclusion that the State of Black America reports were necessary after seeing President Gerald Ford’s State of the Union address, which failed to mention urban communities.

“It’s part of our determination to bring our message to college campuses, bring our message to the next generation of leaders,” Morial said.

A hard copy of the 2012 State of Black America Report can be viewed on the Urban League’s website. The organization has launched an online election center at www.iamempowered.com to educate people about the voting guidelines in their respective state.

Morial said the Urban League plans to continue to raise voter awareness through bus tours and working with other civic and faith organizations. The online election center gives people the opportunity to call a hotline if they need assistance getting a voter registration form.

“The state of black America is the state of America,” he said.