Senate Democrats

REID ADDRESSES 97th ANNUAL NAACP CONVENTION

Calls for Senate to reauthorize Voting Rights Act before August Recess

Washington, DC–Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following remarks at the 97th Annual Convention of the NAACP. Reid praised the NAACP for their longstanding commitment to the civil rights of all Americans, a commitment made all the more important this year in the struggle to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. With the House of Representatives finally having overcome divisions within the Republican Party and passed legislation renewing the landmark civil rights law, Senator Reid called on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to bring it to a vote in the U.S. Senate before the fast-approaching August recess.

The text of Senator Reid’s speech, as prepared, is below.

My good friend from Nevada, Dean Ishman, President of the Las Vegas NAACP is here today.  Dean has been a tireless advocate for justice and equality in Nevada.  I’m proud to have fought by his side and honored to see him this morning.

It’s a privilege to address the men and women of the NAACP.  For nearly one-hundred years, you’ve had the courage to stand up and make the American Dream a reality for people of all races and faiths.  I’m here to tell you Democrats will never stop standing up for you.

The NAACP is an organization with a tremendous history, a powerful voice and a moral authority that transcends politics. Your power to speak out and make a difference is something I’ve witnessed many times in my life. 

In March of 1960, this organization came to Nevada on a mission to desegregate the Las Vegas Strip.

It didn’t happen overnight, but because of you, it did. 

A few years later–when I was a saw student at George Washington University–this organization helped lead a march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 

We didn’t get them overnight, but because of you, we did.

And in my twenty years in Congress, this organization has written, called and visited in the name of ending discrimination and expanding opportunity to every American. 

We haven’t done it yet, but because of you, we will.

This is the 97th annual convention of the NAACP, and I understand this year’s theme is “Voting our Values. Valuing our Votes.”

I’ve heard the charge that Democrats take African Americans for granted.  We’re not above criticism, but I’ll tell you this:  we’re not taking anyone for granted.

We’re fighting to earn the support of every American, and we’re doing it by making clear where we stand.

All the pundits and all press want to focus on “what” Democrats stand for. But that misses the point.

It’s “who” we stand for that matters. And the answer to that is you.

Democrats stand for people who believe America should really be a land of opportunity for all, with good schools no matter where you live, affordable college education, jobs that pay, and a government that understands it’s the middle-class–not the very rich–who need tax relief.

Democrats stand for people who believe America is a country where a hard day’s work results in a fair day’s pay, with a minimum wage that’s increased as often as the Congressional raise.

It’s wrong that Congress has increased its salary over $30,000 dollars since 1997, but not increased the minimum wage a penny.  And it’s not going to happen again.

From now on, Senate Democrats are going to block a raise in Congressional pay, until there’s a raise for America’s workers. 

Democrats stand for people who believe our oldest and neediest deserve our care. 

We all saw the Republicans’ response to Katrina. They dropped the ball when New Orleans needed them the most.

Now, they’re setting their sights–again–on Social Security – the most successful social program in the history of the world, a program that provides 40 percent of African American seniors with their total income, a program that provides critical support to the disabled and families after the death of a loved one, a program that reduces the overall poverty rate among seniors from 50 to 10 percent.  

Democrats beat privatization in 2005, and if Republicans in Congress want to try again this fall, we’ll beat them again. America’s retirement security will not fall into the hands of this incompetent Administration.

Democrats stand for people who believe judges should be beholden to equality and justice, not the radical right. In the Senate, we’ve held the line on the most egregious judicial nominees, and, we will do everything in our power to stop nominees who are not committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans

Democrats stand for people who believe that good health is a prerequisite to prosperity.

Republicans have had five years to get a handle on America’s health care crisis, but even with control of the White House, the Senate and the House, they’ve failed.

Under their watch, the number of uninsured has increased to 46 million. Health care costs are crippling middle-class families and our economy. Racial and ethnic health disparities not only continue to persist, but in some cases, are getting worse.  And the promise of new cures offered by stem cell research remains out of reach.

It’s time for a new direction on health care.

Democrats don’t believe the quality of your heath care should ever be determined by the color of your skin, by the language that you speak, the neighborhood you live in, or the size of your bank account.  We’re committed to giving every American access to quality care. And we’ll embrace the next generation of medical breakthroughs, like stem cell research, in order to make that happens!

It’s tragic. For six years, President Bush has refused to veto a single bill.  But now he’s threatening to issue his first–ever–on stem cell research. 

He didn’t veto Republican budgets that cut from the neediest among us and plunged our country hundreds of billions of dollars into debt. 

He didn’t veto tax breaks for Enron and Exxon, while hardworking families paid more for gas just to get to work or pick up their kids from school.

But now, he’s going to veto a bill that offers hope to millions of Americans suffering from cancer, or chronic and other debilitating conditions, such as diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s, or sickle cell anemia.  

There’s still time for President Bush to reconsider, and I hope he will.

And you know who else Democrats stand for?  People who understand you can’t spread freedom and democracy beyond our shores until you honor these values at home. By counting every vote. By drawing fair Congressional districts. And by reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress, but it’s not politicians in Washington who deserve the credit for this landmark legislation.  Credit belongs to the men and women decades ago who had the courage to rise in the face of injustice. Some of them in this room this morning.

Today in Washington, I believe their legacy–your legacy–is being taken for granted. 

As we speak, the Congress is in the middle of a debate about reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. 

What should have been done in a swift, bipartisan manner is taking far too long.

As you know, this legislation passed the House Friday, but now we’re hearing whispers of a delay in the Senate.

Senator Frist–the Majority Leader–has been reported as saying it may take some time to work through potential procedural hurdles in the Senate.

That is unacceptable.

What hurdles?  We don’t need hours of hearings. We know the wisdom behind this legislation. 

What procedures? We don’t need an endless number of amendments.

What time? We don’t need delays, so its opponents can weaken the legislation for their electoral gain.  Those types of tricks are what the Voting Rights Act was designed to stop.

The Senate must pass the Voting Rights Act by the end of July, and Democrats will insist it does.

The Voting Rights Act isn’t just ‘another’ bill.  It’s essential to our democracy. 

I don’t have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that before the Voting Rights Act, African Americans who tried to register to vote were subject to beatings, literacy tests and poll taxes.

I don’t have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that before the Voting Rights Act, over 90 percent of eligible African Americans in Mississippi didn’t register to vote. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they couldn’t. 

I don’t have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that before the Voting Rights Act, it would have been unheard of to have 43 African American members of Congress, as we do today.

And I don’t have to tell you, but, today in Congress some seem to have forgotten that the simple act of voting on Election Day in America isn’t so simple.  It’s a cause for which Americans–just a few decades ago–were willing to give their lives.

This cause, this right to vote, led Jimmie Lee Jackson from Marion, Alabama, to attempt a peaceful march on the Perry County courthouse, only to be shot in the stomach and killed by police who were beating his mother.

This cause, this right to vote, led a Unitarian minister from New England named James Reeb to leave his family and travel to Selma in the name of equal rights, where he was clubbed to death outside a restaurant.

This cause, this right to vote, led a mother from Michigan named Viola Liuzzo to the back-roads of Alabama, where she was gunned down for having an African American in her car.

This cause, this right to vote, is what we’re fighting for with the Voting Rights Act today. 

On March 15 of 1965–in the wake of the violence in the South–President Lyndon Johnson appeared before Congress to urge them to pass the Voting Rights Act.  In his speech he said:

“In our time we have come to live with moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues; issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation.”

This same challenge – a challenge “to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our nation” – is the challenge we face now.

Senator Frist. President Bush. They need to stand up to the members of their Party, those who are stalling this legislation, and remind them the heart and soul of our country is what’s at stake.

There is no time to waste.

With the Voting Rights Act front and center and elections looming in the coming months, the NAACP has come to Washington at a critical time in our nation’s history. 

Democrats believe in a new direction for America, but we can’t deliver it without your help. I’ve seen the power of the NAACP in the past, and know how critical it is to our future. The struggle for civil rights and economic equality continues, and in that struggle, the Democratic Party and the NAACP walk hand-in-hand. 

By supporting Democrats, you are voting your values. 

And Democrats will always value your support.

Thank you.

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